King’s College London has taken first steps to involve more students in its decision-making processes by hosting an open forum on College research spending. A new committee of students, representatives from Fossil Free KCL, and members of the senior management team will now advise the university Council on divesting away from fossil fuels and unethical projects.
Formed in November 2015 the Socially Responsible Investment Review Committee (SRIRC) held its inaugural meeting this Wednesday that was open to all students to attend. Chair of the meeting and Head of Administration Ian Creagh hoped that the open forum would be a “lively discussion, a real debate” on the College’s broader initiatives of sustainability contracts and practices on philanthropic spending.
The College invests £350m of its endowments on pooled funds aggregated by investors, who in turn reinvest in asset management companies.
SRIRC panellists included Dr. Tytus Murphy from Fossil Free KCL who handed a 1000 signature petition 18 months ago to Vice Principal Chris Mottershead. (present on the panel and Committee.) Also present was Dr. David Morgan, the new chair of the College’s finance subcommittee.
— Roar News (@Roar_News) March 16, 2016
“I’m the ‘new kid on the block’, and my wife Ros Kelly used to be Australia’s Environmental Minister. She’ll make sure that I step up to the leadership.” said David Morgan. “In the past few months divesting wholly and partially from unsustainable energy has dominated the agenda. Partial divestment is an absolute option for us. We have ceased investing in tobacco companies, and we can do it again with fossil fuels.”
The College’s agenda to divest away from fossil fuels follows KCLSU’s separate decision to move to ethical banking. The panel has agreed to make “significant changes by the end of this academic year”.
Currently 10% of UK educational institutions have divested from fossil fuels. The College has listed possible drawbacks of divestment, namely that it would limit investors in King’s College; high transaction costs; and the inability to boycott unsustainable companies whilst the College itself still uses their products.
To combat these drawbacks Tytus Murphy on behalf of Fossil Free KCL presented the College with a document titled “Eliminating Fossil Fuel Investments Without Limiting Critical Returns”, promising ideas for low-carbon investment with minimal loss of profit.
The meeting highlighted a changing tone in senior management towards student campaigners, from principal Ed Byrne saying last year “We don’t fundamentally disagree with you”, to Chris Mottershead remarking at the meeting “I agree wholeheartedly with Tytus on this issue, the science has been clear for 25 years and we need to deal with it. The public thinks universities are more thought-leaders than how they behave, but we need to set an example by what we do than simply what we say.”
Tytus Murphy, himself a doctorate student working on sustainability projects on campus, said that SRIRC represents a positive move in democratising the College. He said, “We as students give King’s its value, and it’s time for us to take part in making the decisions.”
David Morgan has also shared that the College is open to students working alongside senior management on rectifying issues on university governance. In response to questions raised about lack of student representation on university committees he said, “I’m always open to students as long as they can contribute to open debates and we can reach resolution to those debates.” Ian Creagh has also stated that he is “publicly positive about bringing students onboard.”
The College will be kept in check by student campaigners sceptical of the College promises. PhD student Roger Hallam commented “They’ve been dwelling on the decision for months now and the only thing that motivates these guys is King’s reputation. There’s not much substantive commitment to the issue and if nothing gets changed we’ll be pressuring the College through direct action.”
Other ethical concerns from the student body included Kings’ continued investment in BAE Systems Plc, an aerospace company guilty of fraudulent accounting practices and illegal pay-offs to government officials in arms deals with Tanzania and Saudi Arabia. In response Ian Creagh has promised “future follow-up conversations” with the Dean of King’s College Richard Burridge regarding the BAE issue, as Burridge has had experience advising the Church of England to withdraw £12m from fossil fuel investments.
Last year Roar! exposed through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request that the College had approximately £1.4m of its endowment invested in asset management companies Blackrock and Artemis, which in turn re-invest in British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco. Since 2015 the College has backtracked on these investments, and VP Chris Mottershead has described the College’s financial association with tobacco as “wrong” and that “we cannot hide behind the word ‘indirect’”.
@FossilFreeKCL #kclfossilfree #KCLdivest
— Fossil Free KCL (@FossilFreeKCL) October 17, 2014