By Emily Gayfer, RMIT student

This week the Times Higher Education (THE) World Academic Summit has drawn hundreds of leading academics and professionals from across the global higher education sector to the University of Melbourne, Australia.

There are currently over 400 divestment campaigns at campuses worldwide. 40 educational institutions have already chosen to move their endowments away from coal, oil and gas companies because they recognise fossil fuels carry ethical and financial risks. As more universities see the writing on the wall for fossil fuels, this number is only set to grow. Yet, this week, World Academic Summit organisers left the issue off the agenda.

So instead, students organised their own, alternative Fossil Free Summit to show that divestment is a critical issue for the higher education sector and to send a clear message that our universities need to get a wriggle on with divesting if they want a livable future and a credible reputation.

As Summit attendees arrived on Wednesday evening, they were met with divestment campaigners offering ‘fossil free’ cupcakes and flyers inviting them to the Fossil Free Summit. Some lively conversations were had while other attendees brushed off students as they made a bee-line for the champagne.

The drinks reception had originally been planned for the stunning University of Melbourne Quadrangle but was re-located at the last minute in an attempt to avoid fossil free campaigners, who had chalked “Get with the times, divest” among other slogans on the long pathway to the Quadrangle. Organisers didn’t go as a far as to get the trusty hose out and spray down the messages- choosing to rush attendees through the area poste haste instead.

quadshotThe next morning, students marched to the site of the World Academic Summit bearing a giant clock with the slogan “Get with the times, divest”. Aside from making their way noisily through the venue of the World Academic Summit, students announced their own Australian Fossil Free University Rankings to parallel the release of the World University Rankings in the THE Summit.

First place went to ANU for their commitment to partial divestment in October 2014, and worst to UNSW for their staunch, public refusal to divest. A student acting on behalf of ANU was summit6smallerawarded with a polar bear trophy, while UNSW was given a giant cheque from ‘polluters’.

The rankings showed that whilst some institutions are making progress, none have gone all the way and fully committed to fossil fuel

divestment. Clearly, universities are not acting fast enough to break their ties with the dirty fossil fuel industry which is driving dangerous climate change.

Divestment is an incredible opportunity for institutions to show thought leadership and drive the transition away from polluting fossil fuels. Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time, and we need to take serious action to ensure dangerous warming does not occur. Students have shown that they want their universities to stand up and tackle climate change head on, and it’s time they respond by taking their money out of the dirty fossil fuel sector and move it to the clean, renewable energy industries of the future.

Emily Gayfer is a passionate environmentalist and activist. She is currently studying a double degree of Environmental Science and Social Science (Environment) at RMIT. She is also involved with Friends of the Earth’s Yes2Renewables campaign.