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Cutting-edge research creates our technological future, and education forms tomorrow’s workforce. Right now, our future crucially hinges on our society’s ability to go fossil-free, but UK universities are deeply entangled in the fossil fuel industry:

  • UK universities have a combined investment wealth of £62.2 billion. Conservative estimates suggest £1.9 billion of this sum is invested in the fossil fuel industry but our research suggests that a figure of £5.2 billion is more accurate: an investment in fossil fuels of £2,083 for every student in the UK.
  • A small proportion of the wealth of university endowment funds is invested directly in the shares of oil & gas companies. A far greater proportion supports the industry by investments held in pensions unit trusts, and other financial products. (See ‘1. Move The Money’, p. 19)
  • Fossil fuel executives are revered by universities, invited to speak at prestigious events and given honorary degrees. Senior executives from BP and Shell have received 20 awards in the last decade alone, including infamous ex-BP chief executive Tony Hayward. Hayward, who was forced to resign after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, has been awarded honours from Aston University, the University of Birmingham, and Robert Gordon University.
  • Universities offer their credibility for cash when they sign deals sponsoring staff positions, buildings, conferences and lectures with fossil fuel companies. These deals play a key role in shoring up the fossil fuel industry’s public image. (See ‘2. Stop The Greenwash’, p. 32)
  • Students are trained in fossil fuels by industry-tailored degree courses and encouraged to work for oil, gas and coal firms at university-hosted career events.
  • The UK government research councils have stopped directly funding most fossil fuel research. However, energy research spending has fallen over the past 20 years, and the current Research Council annual energy research budget is 13 times smaller than the combined global research budgets of Exxon, BP and Shell.
  •  A number of higher education institutions conduct advanced research and development on fossil fuels with Shell, BP and Exxon funding £56.7 million.  Although this represents a small proportion of the total research budgets of these companies, such programmes help unlock more carbon by discovering new sources of fossil fuels, and increasing the amount of fuel that can be extracted from existing sources. Sponsoring university research is commonly seen by companies as a cheap alternative to doing it in-house. (See 3. Clean up Research and Training, p. 36)
  • Universities host and train fossil fuel company staff and work on high-profile collaborative programmes, sharing intellectual property rights with companies and high-level managers, e.g. at the University of Cambridge where the Head of the Department of Engineering is a Director of BP.

To move beyond fossil fuels, we need to break the carbon links between universities and fossil fuel companies.

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