University’s £26 million fossil fuel investment links condemned

Elsa Maishman 29 October 2015

An investigation by Greenpeace has revealed this week that Cambridge University has received £26 million from energy companies in the past five years, £15.5 million in donations and £10.5 million for specific research projects. Reported on Buzzfeed, the investigation showed that the top four UK universities received £89 million together. 

Ahead of Cambridge, the University of Manchester received the most from energy companies at £27.7 million for research projects, but nothing in donations. Imperial College London had accepted £24 million for research projects, mostly from BP and Shell. 

Under a freedom of information request, Oxford University declared it received significantly less than the top three, at only £11.3 million. However, the total could well be higher, as Oxford could only estimated its donation income.

In total, 39 universities responded at least partially to Greenpeace’s request, which in total had recieved £134 million from energy companies.

The executive director of Scientists for Global Responsbility, Dr Stuart Parkinson,  commented to Buzzfeed after seeing the data, “these figures are very disturbing… they clearly show that leading oil and gas corporations have a major  influence of many of the UK’s top universities – both in research and teaching.

“Such large funding can and will influence research agendas, steering them towards  fossil-fuel-related R&D rather than urgently needed alternatives. This is very likely to undermine progress in tackling climate change.”

The Cambridge student society Zero Carbon commented “the fossil fuels industry has its tentacles wrapped around our University. With £25 million of dirty fossil fuel money pouring into Cambridge University’s coffers, how can it possibly foster an independent research environment?  

A University spokesman told The Cambridge Student that donations and research funding “are used for a variety of reasons; including addressing advances in fundamental science that underpin technologies that the companies are interested in …

"Other motivations for collaborating with Cambridge include increasing the number of students trained with the necessary scientific expertise to work in the energy sector. Energy companies are all working […] to address the transition to a non-fossil fuel economy. Cambridge’s work in advanced materials for example is improving batteries [and] energy storage systems.’’

Currently, there are significant research links between the University and energy companies. BP, Shell and EDF sponsor the Engineering Society, while BP also sponsors the student-led Projects and Industry Partnership and the BP Institute for Multiphase Flow, which directly looks into oil flow, among other things, including creating clean energy partnerships with universities around the world. 

BP Group Head of Research and Technology, David Eyton, said “the University has a fabulous track record of creating important knowledge and that is one of the reasons we are investing in Cambridge. As a business, we have to stay competitive and invest in areas that we believe will benefit our shareholders.”

The website for the BP Insitute for Multiphase Flow states that “several areas of applied research activities in Cambridge have brought would-class expertise to bear on practical issues that have reaped immediate benefits for BP.”

Cambridge University is also currently fundraising for further investment, as part of its £2 billion ‘Hello World… Yours, Cambridge’ campaign. Although the campaign video is directed at individuals, the University also courts corporations.

The total University endowment is £2.8 billion, with a further £2.2 billion belonging to colleges. This makes it one of the richest universities in Europe.



Editorial: The University must detach itself fully from its fossil fuel investment links