The University of Cambridge no longer wants to be funded by fossil fuels

Posted on September 22, 2022

Under pressure from its students and professors, the prestigious University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom is considering cutting ties with fossil fuel companies. A vote initiated by one of the facility’s steering committees will take place in the fall to determine whether the research can continue to receive funding from major oil and gas companies. A debate that mirrors the controversy that rocked the Ecole Polytechnique in France for several months when TotalEnergies wanted to set up a research and innovation center there.

French students aren’t the only ones making the switch. The British also want their campus not to be supported by companies linked to fossil fuels. This summer, the University of Cambridge began distancing itself from oil and gas companies. It responds to the pressure of student organizations and faculties, who have been campaigning in this direction for several years. Last May, they took action in Cambridge and Oxford to force university leaders to stop these companies from funding university research.

To begin with, the management of Cambridge University has announced that it is going to rename the BP Institute, a research institute funded by the British major to the amount of 26 million euros in 2000. The new name should be found soon. But this fall, the establishment will go one step further. The issue of research funding and partnership will be voted on by its academic body, which will decide whether to continue working with the fossil sector or not.

Proposal requested by the faculty

This vote was requested by university professors who are members of the “Regent House”, one of the institution’s governing committees. In this case, some 84 professors supported the proposal, which targets any companies developing new fossil fuel-related infrastructure, exploring new oil or gas fields, or belonging to anti-climate lobbyists. Indeed, the proposal explains that “while fossil fuel companies donate to Cambridge University, they continue to pay fees, about $10 million a year, to industry lobby groups like the American Petroleum Institute, which support fossil fuel expansion and lobby against climate regulations.“.

The financial stakes are not negligible. This follows from an article in a British newspaper The GuardianThe University of Cambridge is said to have received almost £14m from oil and gas companies between 2017 and 2021. It is one of the English universities most supported by the oil industry, along with Imperial College London.

World news according to the non-governmental organization Fossil Free Research

This approach is particularly original when placed in the French context. Indeed, the Polytechnique in Saclay experienced the same controversy in recent years when the engineering school accepted that TotalEnergies set up a low-carbon energy research institute on its campus. As in Cambridge, students protested the project, believing it to be a way for the French major to increase his influence at the school. But at Polytechnique there is no question of voting.

Between student demonstrations, a lawsuit against the CEO of TotalEnergies for illegal interest taking, a proposal by the school management to relocate the building… the dispute lasted for months. It wasn’t until January 2022 that TotalEnergies withdrew and withdrew from the project. In Cambridge, if the proposal put forward by 84 members of the Regent House is voted on, the process should be easier. The NGO Fossil Free Research estimates on Twitter that if it passes, “Cambridge would be a world leader in pushing for a comprehensive fossil-free research policy, ending the toxic capture of critical climate research by companies devoting all their economic and political power to climate degradation.“.

Arnaud Dumas, @ADumas5

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