University League shows 1st class Bristol must go further

By: Grace Carroll
Bristol students protest Barclays

Every year, People & Planet’s University League ranks the environmental and ethical performance of UK universities. This year, we are proud to say that Bristol has earned a first class rank and placed 11th out of 154 institutions, which is fantastic news. We want to take a moment to celebrate the hard work of our Bristol campaigners this year, but with a mind towards the future and what still needs to change.

One standout achievement was the work of the Fossil Free campaign in persuading the university to announce its divestment from the fossil fuel industry within two years. We have a strong sustainable strategy in most areas, including emissions, biodiversity, sustainable procurement and transport. However, we still have a long way to go on this front. Promises are one thing, but we want to see the university taking concrete steps towards divesting its £1.180 million currently invested in the fossil fuel industry. As of this moment, little has been shared with the public pertaining to how Bristol intends to do this, and considering our 0/15% ranking for student representation in ethical investment policy, translating their divestment commitment into policy is an essential first step.

Another area for considerable improvement on the environmental side of things is ethical banking. Unfortunately, Bristol still banks with Barclays, whose estimated £4 billion investment in the fossil fuel industry is one of banking’s biggest contributors to climate chaos. Whilst it may be difficult to pull these investments, one thing the university can and should do is work towards a future exclusion of banks that finance fossil fuels within their ethical banking policy. We need a firm promise that the university will put its money where its mouth is, and make a strong commitment to avoiding fossil fuel investments through all direct and indirect routes. Bristol can also boycott Barclays in other ways, such as withdrawing the bank from careers events and excluding it from advertisement, and we will continue to work on pressuring Barclays to ditch its backing in oil, gas and coal.

This year, we have made the Undoing Borders campaign our main focus, and our ranking is proof of the work that we, and other brilliant organisations such as STAR, have done to improve migrant rights both within and outside of university. A pivotal achievement listed in this report is the fact that the University of Bristol now offers tuition fee scholarships for long-term residents with ‘irregular migration status’, making it far easier for asylum seekers and refugees to study here. Steps are also currently being taken in the right direction towards positioning Bristol as a refugee and migrant friendly institution, including the ongoing acquisition of Sanctuary Status, which would advertise the university as a safe space for the wider community.

However, there is much, much more to be done in this area. The university continues to charge asylum seekers as international students, which can be up to three times the amount paid by UK students ordinarily. Bristol also fails to provide bursaries or grants for university living costs, making it even more difficult for migrants and asylum seekers to study here. Perhaps most disappointingly, the university scores 0 on publicising its Equal Access policies and for putting policies in place that specifically support and enable asylum seekers. This needs to change, and fast. Here at People and Planet, we are calling on the University to truly earn its Sanctuary status, look to its students in need and do everything in their power to make this institution welcoming and diverse. We pledge to continue our work in this area, as we have already done this year by attempting to push the university to abandon its investment in the border industry.

Although this ranking is a testament to the vital hard work of our campaigners, we recognise that we – just like many others in this league – have a long way to go. The fight by no means stops here, and we will continue to campaign intelligently and strongly until the demands of People & Planet are met.

Research for this piece was conducted by Jacob Blewett and Grace Carroll .

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