January 24, 2015

Oxford University Fossil Free campaigners take to the streets with ‘dirty degrees’ to protest University’s investment in fossil fuel companies.

Oxford University Fossil Free campaigners take to the streets with ‘dirty degrees’ to protest against the University’s investment in fossil fuel companies.

OXFORD, UK – Today, Oxford University students and alumni painted ‘degrees’ oil black to demonstrate anger at Oxford’s ongoing investment in the fossil fuel industry. They are arguing that their degrees are tarred by association with the fossil fuel industry, due to the investment of Oxford’s endowment in many major fossil fuel companies.

This comes just days before the University’s General Purposes Committee meet to decide whether or not to recommend fossil fuel divestment (Monday 26th January). Students at Oxford have been lobbying the University for over a year to divest from fossil fuel companies, arguing that they are risking our planet for the sake of their profit. Oxford University and its colleges, with investments of £3.8 billion, have the largest endowment wealth of any UK higher education institution.

The Oxford University Fossil Free campaign have detailed recommendations including a call to cut all direct investments in coal and tar sands oil and also to establish clear targets to move all investments away from carbon-intensive assets and into low-carbon alternatives, including renewable energy [1]. This campaign has gained the support of over 100 academics, nearly 300 alumni and over 2200 others, as well as 27 college common rooms and the Oxford University Student Union (OUSU) [2].

Last week new research was released by University College London (UCL) which states that over 80% of coal, 50% of gas and 30% of oil reserves are “unburnable” under the goal to limit global warming to no more than 2C [3]. However UCL has refused to divest it’s own money from the fossil fuel industry, which include Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, BP PLC, and Royal Dutch Shell PLC, despite a growing student campaign which has gathered over 1300 signatures from students, staff and alumni [4].

Since October 2013, the People & Planet network have launched nearly 60 Fossil Free campaigns across UK campuses and engaged over 25,000 students. They’re calling on UK universities to divest their £5.2bn worth of investments in the top 200 coal, oil and gas companies, as well as ditch their research and career ties [5].  In summer 2014, the University of London SOAS became the first UK university to take action; freezing new investments in the fossil fuel industry. SOAS is expected to make a decision on divestment in February. In October 2014, Glasgow University became the first university in the UK to divest its £129 million endowment from fossil fuels.

Around 200 institutions globally, with a combined asset size of well over $50 billion, have committed to divest, including the Rockerfeller Brothers Foundation, the British Medical Association, Stanford University and the World Council of Churches [6]. A total of 21 universities have divested internationally. In the last week alone, the University of Bedfordshire, Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden and Goddard College in Vermont USA have all pledged to divest.

Decisions are also imminent from a hand-full of other institutions including the University of Edinburgh, who conducted a university-wide student and staff consultation in which respondents overwhelmingly supported divestment.

Thousands of student’s across the country will be taking part in a week of action, Go Green Week, from the 9th – 15th February calling on their institutions to cut their ties with the fossil fuel industry, with the 14th and 15th seeing actions across the world for Global Divestment Day [7] [8].


Rivka Micklethwaite (student, co-Chair OUSU Environment & Ethics)

‘In the 15 months since it began, our campaign has reached a critical point: on Monday the university will effectively decide whether or not to divest. We’ve come so far so quickly because there’s huge support for divestment at Oxford – from people who don’t want their institution, and their degrees, funding fossil fuel companies.’


Interviews, further quotes and hi-def photos available from: Ellen Gibson (OUSU Environment & Ethics co-Chair) on 07981277248 or eande.chair@ousu.org


  1. Report available here: https://oxfordunifossilfree.wordpress.com/about/our-report-averting-a-climate-crisis/.
  2. The list of University of Oxford supporters, as well as information about the student campaign can be found here: https://oxfordunifossilfree.wordpress.com/our-supporters-2/
  3. For more information on UCL’s research http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-30709211
  4. https://www.facebook.com/FossilFreeUCL
  5. UK universities currently invest £5.2bn in the fossil fuel industry. More information can be found in the Knowledge and Power report http://peopleandplanet.org/dl/fossil-free/knowledge-power-report.pdf
  6. For a full list of divestment commitments, see: https://gofossilfree.org/commitments/
  7. For more information on Go Green Week see http://peopleandplanet.org/gogreenweek
  8. For more information on Global Divestment Day https://gofossilfree.org/divestment-day