Students Condemn Cambridge’s Ethical and Environmental Ranking

Sophie Huskisson 3 August 2019
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

People & Planet’s independent league table of UK universities has ranked Cambridge 67th in ethical and environmental performance. The university had previously improved its ranking from 113th in 2015 to 58th in 2017. Where Cambridge’s progression has declined, Oxford has continued to improve, from 115th in 2015, to 54th in 2017, to 45th in 2019.

The table, published 15th July, ranks all 154 UK universities on over 100 indicators that test for commitment, policy, and performance in sustainable development. Cambridge scored the lowest possible in seven categories under ethical investments, including 0% on the most heavily weighted category, screening out specific sectors from investments.

A representative from Cambridge Zero Carbon Society commented, “we are by no means surprised that the University of Cambridge has ranked low in its investments. Time and time again we have pointed out the effects of the university failing to divest from the fossil fuel industry, that continues to devastate the poorest communities in the world. Cambridge should be a global leader in the fight against climate chaos, and we hope the vice chancellor and investment office will take seriously this abysmal ranking.”

In other environmental sections, the University’s performance was mixed. Over 60% was achieved in the categories of carbon management, sustainable food, and waste and recycling. In addition, high scores were achieved in forming sustainable strategy, providing the human resources necessary for sustainability, and having environmental auditing systems in place. However, these were undermined by very low scores in water reduction, carbon reduction, energy sources, and education for sustainable development.

Cambridge did not perform well in the workers’ rights category, fulfilling only 10% of its criteria. In particular, it scored 0 for being a Living Wage accredited employer. In February, the Taylor’s Table showed that despite the University being living wage accredited, only one college is officially accredited.

“The pressures of marketisation hit the lowest paid workers in colleges the hardest, and we welcome the People & Planet for bringing attention to this. If colleges can pay up to £92,000 for the salary of a master, it is disgraceful that they will not give any of their millions in income and endowments for the most basic cost of living for the workers whom the college could not run without,” commented The Cambridge Living Wage Campaign.

The University completely failed in all four aspects linked to irregular migration status and in three of the four concerning asylum seekers and refugees. In contrast, other Russell Group universities, such as King’s College London, achieved full marks in all eight categories.

The CUSU BME Campaign have said, “[we are] disappointed, though not surprised, that the People & Planet findings demonstrate Cambridge’s failure to fulfil its duty to those with irregular migrant status, as well as asylum seekers and refugees. We expect that, in future, the university will use the resources at its disposal to level the playing field and commit itself to ensuring that those from all backgrounds have the opportunity to study and work here.”

Hannah Smith, Co-director of Campaigns and Research, People and Planet commented, “when we consider the great wealth that Cambridge has at its fingertips, a decision to not pay their staff the living wage seems perverse. Cambridge could also use their privileged resources to meet student demand for action on climate and to remove barriers for those prevented from going to university because of an irregular migration status in the UK.”

The CUSU Ethical Affairs Campaign commented on the University’s overall ranking, “these results again show the failure of Cambridge to provide leadership on environmental and ethical issues when it so clearly should. Falling in the rankings while other universities make real progress discredits the Universities public pronouncements about its commitment to these issues.”