Student political societies respond after Palatinate reveals University’s record of investment

By Palatine-Centre

Following Palatinate‘s revealing of the University’s record of investment for the last quarter of 2014 last week, a range of student societies have issued comments and statements on the investments.

The Freedom of Information request revealed millions of pounds, through an investment manager, in defence contractors, petroleum companies and chemical companies in the last quarter of 2014.

Of the investment portfolio totaling £35,693,626, £389,249 of investment was in oil and gas company BG Group PLC, £278,388 in BP PLC and £254,680 in Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

The report also identifies £182,720 worth of investment in Anadarko Petroleum, £52,035 in Carin Energy PLC, £32,940 in Tullow Oil PLC and £10,307 in Petrobras.

of Durham University’s People and Planet Society responded by commenting: “It is ridiculous that a University which puts itself at the forefront of scientific research is investing in something which we know to be causing climate change.

“Hundreds of institutions across the world have already cut their ties with the fossil fuel industry.The fact that we haven’t makes us seem incredibly backward.”

A similar view was echoed by Miranda Pettifer, a first-year student at Josephine Butler College: “It is extremely disappointing to discover that the financial interests of the University heavily involve fossil fuels, in my view explicitly undermining the ethic of environmentally-friendly practice provided in much of its literature.

“It is also hugely disheartening for the many students who voluntarily contribute a great deal in promoting greener practice across the university, such as college Green Committees, making their efforts feel overpowered for the sake of profit”.

Records shown to Palatinate further show that the University invested £38,756, through Sarasin & Partners, in Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defence contractor.

Lockheed Martin generates the vast amount of its revenue through military sales, such as Trident missiles and fighter jets.

£391,116 was also invested in the United Technologies Corporation, a multinational conglomerate that develops high-technology products in numerous areas including missile systems and military helicopters.

Consequently, Mathew Gibson of Durham University Amnesty International commented: “The society’s view is that some of the firms listed in the Palatinate article have acted if not with disregard to human rights, then with at least a minimum respect for human life.

“Shell is a perfect example here. The company refuse to take responsibility for the impact of their industrial practices, which, as in the Nigerian River Delta have had a catastrophic impact upon the lives of hundreds of thousands.

“As a society that stands for human rights and human dignities we are deeply worried by the universities investments and hope that the investments in companies with poor human rights records are withdrawn immediately.”

Rather than investing directly in shares, the University uses an investment manager at Sarasin & Partners to invest in pooled funds, which raised concerns for Amber Donovan President of Durham’s SU Marxist Society: “The truth about the University’s investments is nothing short of outrageous.

“It is indicative of a capitalism-driven shift from investing in students, to exploiting them to make a profit by using the money they pay in accommodation fees, to invest in companies that negatively impact society.”

10341662_774854385912759_6454466374936526827_nSkepticism regarding the role of investment in the private sector was also raised by Durham Students for University Reform (DSUR) who have campaigned on campus and at post-applicant open days following  the announcement of a 8% increase in accommodation fees for next year of which one third will go towards “capital and borrowing expenditure”.

Co-Chairs of DSUR, and Sofia Hewson, added: “Durham Students for University Reform  is encouraged that the university has yielded to student pressure by releasing details of its investments whereas it had previously admitted to destroying this information.

“However, given the scale and nature of these investments many will question the fact that they are being funded in a large part by college rents paid by students.”

10384105_788223224529805_4732740857375468089_nIn contrast, Jakub Čaloun President of Durham University Free Market Association (DUFMA) disputed such skepticism: “University’s aim should be providing the best education possible, which requires funding.

“If a perfectly legal investment into shares of a company creates more wealth than other possible investments, how would you justify not investing into that company, be it Lockeed Martin? Complaining about both student fees increases and these investments is contradictory.”

Konrad Urban, Vice Presdient of DUFMA also spoke of the benefits to current and future students of these investments: “Wise investment lowers the cost and improves the quality of the institution.

“This is because when you anticipate an increased income, you can start spending already. So the notion that we sacrifice for future benefit shows a lack of understanding of economics.

“One may discuss whether a given investment is good or bad or whether tuition fees are too high, but on a fundamental level a freer and more independent University can’t be a bad thing. Part of that freedom is to have to cater to oneself, just like the grown-ups that we will soon become ourselves.”

In response to last week’s Palatinate investigation, the University released a statement, claiming that it: “has no direct investments in tobacco or armaments in accordance with the policy mandate given to the investment managers.

“The managers have made an investment in a Sarasin Global Equity Investment Fund which has a modest holding in Lockheed Martin, a US defence contractor. These shares, which are held indirectly, represent 0.1% of our total investment portfolio. We are discussing the situation with the managers.

“Our investment policy is scheduled to be reviewed in 2015. The review will involve consultation with the Ethics Advisory Committee, the Finance and General Purposes Committee and University Council. Students are represented on all these bodies.”

Do you agree or disagree with these views? We’d love to hear from you! Email your thoughts to news@palatinate.org.uk with your name, college and subject. Please let us know if you would like to remain anonymous.

Photograph: Rose Innes,  Durham Students for University Reform and Durham University Free Market Association. 

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