Last night around 70 University of Edinburgh students turned out to the first ever consultation event on university investments. No other university has gone this far – to set up a consultation period for students and staff to feed in their ideas about how the university should invest its £284 million endowment fund. The debate was lively, the ideas varied, as students presented their thoughts on ending investments into arms and fossil fuel companies.
Spearheaded by Dave Gorman, new Director of Sustainability, the consultation period begins this week and ends in March. This clear precedent set by the University of Edinburgh follows from a controversial decision last October to cease investing in Ultra Electronics, a company making components for military drones, due to student popular demand. Campaign group People & Planet, who are calling on universities to end their links with fossil fuel companies through investments and sponsorship, welcomed the Consultation, saying it was a unique opportunity for the University of Edinburgh to be a leader in divesting from harmful companies.
A panel of speakers led the debate and answered questions from the audience. Bella Crowe, of People & Planet, outlined the hugely destructive potential that fossil fuel companies have in terms of fuelling catastrophic climate change, and called for a divestment policy to be created that would screen out companies exploiting fossil fuels.
Kirsty Haigh, Vice President of Services, gave a context to the ethical investment campaign, outlining the student demands of making the university investment structure more democratic, transparent and accountable.
Dave Gorman, Director of Sustainability, expressed his commitment to the Consultation, saying “We need to listen to people’s point of view.” He said that there would be a wide range of views expressed and that not everyone may be happy with the end result.
Finally, Professor of Ethics Michael Northcott gave an inspirational speech calling on undergraduate students to be more active in the university, stressing that a small group of passionate people had the potential to change the world. He emphasised the ethical foundations that campaigns like Fossil Free have, maintaining that student demands should not depend on logical or pragmatic outcomes, but on underlying ethical responsibilities and considerations. We don’t campaign on things because they’re feasible, said Professor Northcott, but because “it’s the right thing to do.”
Students voiced wide-ranging views on ethical investment, from issues surrounding corporate sponsorship of some university departments, to the seriousness of the carbon bubble. Robbert Bosschler, postgraduate student in Integrated Resource Management felt that “not enough is invested in green companies that actually create the jobs that we want to have. If the university invested away from fossil fuels, it would create more jobs in the green sector, and invest in our students – our product – so they can actually implement the things they learnt in their university degrees.”
The Consultation can be viewed online, and is open until March 7th for any student or staff member to submit their comments and opinions. For more information about the Consultation or about the Responsible Investment Campaign, please contact email@example.com.