Oxford University

Student disappointment as University Council defers decision over fossil fuel divestment

Student disappointment as University Council defers decision over fossil fuel divestment

Oxford University Council deferred a decision earlier today over whether to divest £2 billion worth of endowment from fossil fuel companies.

This move has been heavily criticized by several student groups, particularly the Oxford University Fossil Free Divestment Campaign, which is supported by OUSU.

In a statement, OUSU’s Environmental and Ethics Fossil Free Campaign denounced the deferral as representing “serious complacency towards the urgent need for action on climate change”, saying that it was a “disappointing” step in a campaign which had already “been continuously hampered by the slow burn of the University’s bureaucratic processes”.

A group of alumni have also expressed their anger over the deferral by occupying an administrative building next to the Sheldonian Theatre.

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Fairlie Kirkpatrick Baird, founder of the Oxford Climate Society stated: “We are very disappointed in the Council’s deferral of the decision, as we feel this demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding as to the severity and immediacy of the issue.”

“Clearly, divestment is supported by a large part of the University’s community; by choosing to defer the decision, the University is deferring not only its response to divestment but also its response to and support for the wishes of a major part of its students and academics”.

Oxford’s current endowment of £2 billion is the largest of any British university.

The proposal made by the Divestment Campaign includes four primary demands: (1) for the University to evaluate carbon risks across its portfolio, (2) to move from high-carbon assets to low-carbon alternatives, (3) to cut direct investments in coal and tar sands oil, and (4) to engage with policy makers, financial regulators, and corporate management on climate risk issues.

With official endorsement from OUSU, 29 college common rooms, over 100 academics, and more than 550 alumni have threatened to suspend their contributions unless the University agrees to divest.

Over the last 18 months, students have taken part in protests, rallies, marches, teach-ins and academic and alumni petition drives over the issue of fossil fuel investment.

A separate campaign is also being carried out encouraging alumni to “hand back” their degrees if the University refuses to divest, with alumni from 15 different colleges, including Solarcentury founder Jeremy Leggett and journalist George Monbiot, participating.

OUSU President Louis Trup commented: “The University Council has seriously considered the proposals and has decided it wants to get more information before making a final decision, most likely in May. I hope that in the time between then and now, students continue to make it clear that the University has a moral duty to the planet and must listen to its expert researchers who are leading calls to divest.”

A statement on behalf of Oxford University said: “The University Council had a good discussion of the issues and agreed to consider the matter further at a future meeting”.

While Oxford has partially divested from arms manufacturing companies over the past five years, the University’s relationship with fossil fuel companies extends beyond its investments. Two years ago, Oxford accepted funds from Royal Dutch Shell to build a new Earth Sciences laboratory, and Shell also funds research doctorates in geochemistry.

Baird added: “Climate change is already happening, and unfortunately, the planet doesn’t have time to wait for divestment to be bounced between endless University Councils; Oxford University needs to recognize its position as a global leader, take the initiative and divest, sooner, rather than later.

Miriam Chapman, a student campaigner, was hopeful as to the future of the divestment project, saying that students “will continue to campaign and lobby on this issue until the University commits to full divestment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies”.

 

 

COVER PHOTO//Rennett Stowe

IMAGE//Fossil Free UK, Facebook

We deserve a fifth week break, not blues

We deserve a fifth week break, not blues

I write this as it pours with rain outside; it’s a dull Wednesday in 5th week, approaching 4am in the morning, and the prospect of three translations to do by tomorrow is becoming less of the faint prospect it was a couple of days ago and more of a threatening reality – and the only reason I haven’t managed to do them has been because of the intensity of this past week, which caused me to eventually cave in and chosoe to miss a day of lectures to manage to finish some work.

Oxford terms are a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it type of short – intense to say the least, combining attempts and failures to equalise a work and life balance, squeezing academic work into a length of two months. Only last week, speaking to a friend at Exeter University, did I realise that whilst we heroically trumped along to get through fifth week, the rest of the UK students were enjoying a break from their own terms in the space of time that for us makes up fifth week, and doing some catching up with work in their assigned reading weeks.

I also realised, having followed last term’s Cambridge Union president on Twitter for a few weeks, that Cambridge seem to be far more concerned with the lack of a reading week than our own institution. The Other Place have, in fact, started a campaign called #endfifthweekblues, which has reached 445 signatures as of today- only 55 away from its target – in a very short amount of time. Cambridge students seem to be of the same mind-set as many of us here are: that it is unfathomable that other universities should be allowed to take a week off in the middle of term, whereas we should simply accept the harsh reality – endurance, we are taught the moment we set foot here, is key to reaching the end of each term.

The consequences of the University’s attitude towards the workload is without doubt having a terrible effect on a large percentage of those bravely attempting to thrive academically in the course of an eight week term – and whilst some are courageous enough to make the decision to take a break from it, as the newly founded blog welfarecrisis.tumblr.com which recounts experiences of rusticated Oxford students proves, many are instead suffering in silence with problems connected to mental health brought on certainly not always, but in  an alarmingly high number of cases, by the intensity of stress and pressure.

Our terms present problems, which first and foremost must be considered by examining the effect they are having on students’ health –however, the academic aspect contemporarily fits into the equation in which despairing students outnumber the dreaming spires. Tom Marshall, a second year at Queen’s, reflects upon the urgency that many of us sense looming over us: “I do certainly feel like Oxford encourages a kind of rush mentality whereby handing in anything, as long as it meets a deadline, is acceptable; I’d rather take the time to make a piece of work really good”. His words lead us to question ourselves -how can we perform academically to the best of our abilities, if constantly under-slept and overworked?

It’s hard to agree to alleviating the stringent academic standards which Oxford expects of us, as we are all here to receive this very kind of intense and focused teaching – but there is also no denial that there is a very significant difference between high standards, and standards which in turn are ignorant of student wellbeing. Let’s try to put this into concrete terms – the introduction of a reading week for the average PPEist is equivalent to being let off two essays, in the grand scheme of things not that much at all. This does not devaluate an Oxford degree in the slightest – it simply is a step that needs taking if we are to expect students to be able to face continuing their studies whilst contemporarily not damaging their physical and mental health. A reading week would certainly allow many to catch up and prove beneficial to a great number of students, but it would also improve the welfare of a minority, which is greatly overlooked– students suffering from physical impairments and disabilities.  Those suffering with these issues need a time in which to rest, recover, and be able to care for themselves – and it is this time precisely which is very much lacking in the kind of high pressure environment that Oxford is. The more people express negativity about their experience at university due to the time constraints it implicates, the more access could potentially be impacted upon, too. There is nothing to question, nor any doubt about it – a reading week is key to making our university an improved, healthier, and more accessible place of learning.

CARTOON/ Harriet Bourhill

Protest has shamed OUSU, not the Union

Protest has shamed OUSU, not the Union

As the visit of Marine le Pen to the Union fades into the relative distance, the ideologies of the no-platformers, claiming to act on our behalf through OUSU, must continue to be challenged. It is outdated, indefensible and hypocritical- even more so due to the fact it is espoused in all our names.

The ineffectiveness of no-platform policies at stopping ideologies they dislike should be fairly clear. They did nothing to stop the rise of the BNP in the 2010 European elections. For all that is made of the 3,000 membership requests that followed Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time, much more should be made of how many people surely watched the show and realised that the BNP was not a legitimate party of protest. Louis Brandeis was right to call sunlight the best disinfectant; it is only through exposing fascism for what it is – for giving it a platform from which to drown in its own poison – that we destroy this narrative with a healthy dose of truth.

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Oxford downplays A-level panic

Oxford downplays A-level panic

The University of Oxford has denied that the “provisional” nature of August A-level results mean that it should not longer use them to finalise course places.

The denial comes after OCR, one of Britain’s biggest exam boards, admitted that results should “not be viewed as finalised” before re-marking has been completed in late October, almost a month after the beginning of Michaelmas term.

The exam board’s comments have been made despite the standard practice of allocating places on the basis of August grades, which OCR now insist should be viewed as “provisional” rather than final.

A statement from the university press office denied that the lateness  that “the University has never denied anyone a place at Oxford as a result of an exam board error,” while admitting that “In a very small number of cases the delay in re-marking may result in candidates having to defer entry.”

Alison Rogers, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, was critical of OCR’s admission, saying: “It is always disappointing to hear of cases where students’ university chances are disrupted by human error in the marking of examinations and we should all be concerned about any erosion in public and schools’ confidence in the marking of A-levels and GCSEs.

“Standards in our qualification system must be seen to be robust, rigorous and able to stand up to the highest scrutiny and this must begin with the marking of examination scripts.”

University stops registering students to vote automatically

University stops registering students to vote automatically

Students are no longer automatically registered to vote by the University, it has emerged.

The information was revealed in a small note in a student news bulletin from the University on October 20th and a number of JCR Presidents have warned their JCRs.

A University spokesperson said: “The change has taken place as a result of a change in the law designed to reduce electoral fraud. Under the new system, people who are registering need to provide a few more details to identify themselves. The new process will also gives people the option to register online for the first time.” 

The spokesperson explained that colleges will be “forwarding Oxford City Council’s formal invitation to register”, saying:

“These invitations will arrive in  individual student pigeon holes either this week or early next. Students should then be able to follow the instructions to register themselves online. It is a simple process which should take no more than five minutes and should give students ample opportunity to register to vote.”

OUSU President Louis Trup told the OxStu:  “Ruth (our Vice-President for Charities and Community) and I have been working on ensuring students know about the changes to voter registration. We have met with representatives of the Council, Brookes Student Union and Ruskin Student Union to find ways of making sure that all students in Oxford know about these changes. This lead to there being a stall at OUSU Freshers’ Fair dedicated to  voter registration.

“We are also working with Bart Ashton, Chairman of the Domestic Bursars’ Committee, to ensure that college authorities know about the changes and make it as easy as possible for students to register to vote. We will soon be launching a large campaign aiming to inform every student about how to register so look out for that!”

Trup added: “On November 3rd, I will be presenting to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Students on this issue.I intend to highlight how the changes to voter registration will affect students and the ways in which students should be informed of these changes.”

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