The Oxford Climate Justice Campaign has released a report outlining the University of Oxford’s links to the fossil fuel industry, arguing that “Oxford must make a concerted effort to square its financial connections with its ambitious sustainability goals.” The report found that between 2015-2020, at least £8.2M in research grants from fossil fuel companies were accepted by the University and associated departments and colleges, and £3.7M in donations, excluding the £100M donation from INEOS in 2020. The Saïd Business School is the biggest specified recipient of such funding and donations.
The report argues that students do not want this level of engagement with the fossil fuels industry, and suggests that “money from fossil fuel companies arguably influences the direction of research carried out, which limits academic freedom.” The report goes on to highlight departments and projects receiving the funding, including the Mathematics department’s training for Industrially Focused Mathematical Modelling, the Shell Geoscience Laboratory, and the Centre for Doctoral Training in Autonomous Intelligent Machines and Systems amongst others.
The report suggests that the University’s relationship with the fossil fuel industry aids industry greenwashing. “By funding work on the science and technology of sustainability and other positive ethical projects at Oxford, the fossil fuel industry acquires a coat of greenwash.” The report also suggests that “By paying for prestigious events, sponsoring scholarships and achievement prizes, engaging in the cultural life of the University, and funding academic projects in the field of sustainable development and other ethical research, the fossil fuel industry builds up an image of itself as a beneficial, philanthropic, and necessary sector – an image which it can paste over the horrific scenes of damage and destitution.”
The OCJC has set up a petition asking the University to take no further donations or grants from the fossil fuels sector, and for the Careers Service to stop advertising positions within the fossil fuels industry. The petition also outlines long-term demands, including prohibiting individuals “from holding positions of authority simultaneously at the University or colleges and in a fossil fuel company, where there is a demonstrable conflict of interest” and ensuring that all colleges and halls fully divest from fossil fuel companies.
A spokesperson for OCJC said: “‘The fossil fuel industry perpetuates the climate crisis and upholds global injustice. It contributes to the death and destitution of people worldwide, particularly the marginalised and disenfranchised. The University of Oxford must cut all its ties to this extractive industry.”
“We acknowledge that cutting ties with the fossil fuel industry will require great effort. This makes it all the more important to start this process as soon as possible. We will not stop campaigning until the University of Oxford stands free from these ties.”
A spokesperson for the University said: “The University of Oxford safeguards the independence of its teaching and research programmes, regardless of the nature of their funding. Those donating money or sponsoring programmes at the University have no influence over how academics carry out their research or what conclusions they reach. Researchers publish the results of their work whether the results are seen to be critical or favourable by industry or governments.”
“Partnerships with industry allow the University to apply its knowledge to real challenges of pressing global concern, with funding often going directly into research into climate-related issues and renewables.”
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28/4/21, 16:37 – amended to remove references to colleges who have since been removed from the report.