May 22, 2015

70 Oxford alumni to hand back degrees in fossil fuel protest

OXFORD, UK — On Saturday 23 May, almost 70 Oxford alumni will be symbolically handing back their degrees over the University’s failure to fully divest from fossil fuels. This comes after Oxford University Council committed to not invest directly in coal and tar sands last Monday. While alumni campaigners have celebrated this as a step forward, they maintain that the University has not taken sufficient action, and that their degree has no value for them until a full divestment commitment, covering all fossil fuels and both direct and indirect investments, is reached.

LOCATION: This event will take place outside University Offices in Wellington Square.
TIME & DATE: The Ceremony will take place at 1pm on 23 May 2015, we will then be hosting a celebration for supporters of the campaign until 3pm.
WHAT: A degree hand-back ceremony, followed by a family-friendly garden party for all the supporters of the Oxford University Fossil Free campaign.

Rivka Micklethwaite, student campaigner, said: “It is very significant for the University to publicly acknowledge the high ‘social and environmental risk’[1] of coal and tar sands, and to therefore rule out direct investment. They have not yet altered any university policy, but they have essentially admitted that they should.”

Oxford University is a global leader on climate change research with its Smith School producing influential research on fossil fuels becoming stranded assets.

Monday’s decision is the result of a campaign which successfully gathered support from thousands of students, academics and alumni. The Student Union (OUSU) endorsed divestment, alongside 41 college common rooms representing 12,500 students, and over one hundred academics have signed an open letter calling for action from the university. [2] Around 200 institutions globally, with a combined asset size of over $50 billion, have committed to divest, including the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, the British Medical Association, and the Church of England sold its shares in coal and tar sands. [3]

For alumni handing hack their degree on Saturday Oxford University’s decision is a step in the right direction but does not reflect the urgency of the issue of climate change.

Sunniva Taylor, an Oxford alumna said: ”With the decision today the university has taken a step forward, but not a big enough one. I, with others, have decided to hand back my degree, in protest. This is not just a question of integrity for me. I want to use the privilege having it gives me to try and shake things up; to use my power to draw attention to others.”

Amongst those handing back their degrees are three Oxfordshire councillors for the Green Party: David Thomas, Ruthi Brandt, Sam Hollick, reinforcing the solidarity between ‘town’ and ‘gown’ divestment campaigns – Oxford City Council banned direct investments in fossil fuels last year, while the campaign for Oxfordshire County Council to divest is ongoing.

The councillors will be joining names such as Jeremy Leggett and George Monbiot in their decision to hand back their degrees.

Jeremy Leggett, writer and solar entrepreneur said: “I don’t think universities should be training young people to craft a viable civilisation with one hand and bankroll its sabotage with the other”



Photos and spokespeople available via Rivka Micklethwaite (OUSU Environment and Ethics Secretary),

Miriam Wilson (Fossil Free Campaign Coordinator, People & Planet): +447740168718,


[1]Oxford University’s statement on Monday’s decision:


[3]For a full list of all the institutions that have divested, see