Press Release 2023/24

For immediate release

For interviews, data, further analysis; please contact: Jack Ruane

The 2023/24 People & Planet University League, which ranks 151 UK universities against sustainability and ethics criteria, shows that universities are beginning to listen to student demands to end ties with industries in opposition to climate and social justice, such as the fossil fuel and border industry-but there is still a long road to travel.

The University of Reading has topped the People & Planet University League for the first time. The university has risen from 11th position in 2021/22 to 4th position in 2022/23, and now takes 1st place with an overall score of 81.8%. This year’s rise to the top can be attributed to highly improved performance in carbon management, and other improvements in the areas of worker rights and ethical investment. The latter included a
commitment to screen out investments in companies complicit in the violation of international law.

The top five spots have been heavily contested in the ranking this year. Manchester Metropolitan University has improved its position on last year from 3rd to 2nd, while the University of Bedfordshire has slipped from 2nd to 3rd, and the University of the Arts London has moved up from 5th to 4th. In fifth place is Kings College London, which has risen from 12th place. Last year’s winner, Cardiff Metropolitan University has slipped
into 6th place, previously scoring 82.3%, and this year scoring 75.3%.

Russell Group universities only have one in the top ten this year: Kings College London. However, the most common award for a Russell Group university is a 2:1 and this year 54% received a 2:1 or higher. The University of Oxford has risen four places, staying ata 2:1 and narrowly avoiding a 1st. The University of Cambridge has risen eight places, but missed out on a 2:1 award. Post-1992 universities continue to lead the way with
62% of 1st class awards and three of the top five slots going to these institutions.

The highest mover is the University of Gloucestershire, which rocketed 80 places, moving from a 3rd last year to a 1st, following an improved submission of environmental data to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. Robert Gordon University also leapt 58 places, moving from a third to 2:1 having made improvements in sustainability policies, and having recently committed to divesting from fossil fuels. The University of
Birmingham shot up 51 places, gaining a 2:2, and having previously scored a fail, meaning all Russell Group universities are now scoring passing grades.

The Royal Veterinary College has finished bottom of the People & Planet University League 2023/24 with just 3.4% overall. It remains the case that the lowest spots in the ranking are taken by smaller and specialist universities such as Ravensbourne University London, Writtle University College and University College of Osteopaths, all scoring less than 10% overall.

National and Regional Performances

Queen’s University Belfast, Cardiff Metropolitan University, and Glasgow Caledonian University have placed top of their respective nations.
Wales has performed very strongly again this year, with 4 of its 8 universities scoring 1st class awards: Cardiff Metropolitan University, Swansea University, Bangor University and Wrexham University. Two of these - Cardiff Metropolitan University, and Swansea University made it into the top ten. Last year’s winner, Cardiff Metropolitan placed 6th, and Swansea University placed 8th, up from 13th, having committed to banning
recruiters from oil, gas and tar sands companies on campus this year.

25 English universities gained a 1st, with the University of Reading topping the table. Scottish Universities performed less well, with no institutions receiving a 1st and only three receiving a 2:1: Glasgow Caledonian University, Robert Gordon University and Edinburgh Napier University. There were also no universities in Northern Ireland that received a 1st.

Six universities in the Midlands, five in London, five in the South West received 1sts, making these the highest achieving regional categories.Sustainability and Ethics Statistics There are now 108 universities that have committed to divesting from fossil fuels,
making up 71.5% of all institutions in the ranking. The University of Salford, which made divestment commitments this year. The commitment helped propel Robert Gordon University 58 places in the league.

Seven universities have now made commitments to ending recruitment pipelines to the fossil fuel industry which reflects a growing movement of young people who refuse to work with climate-wreckers: University of Bedfordshire, Bishop Grosseteste University,
Wrexham University, University of The Arts London, Royal College of Art, University for the Creative Arts, and Swansea University placed 13th, and the University of West London, which placed 15th, both recently divested from fossil fuels achieved a 1st.

Six universities have made a commitment to divest from the border industry. Northumbria University, Nottingham Trent University, and the University of Worcester this year all excluded the border industry from any future investments and all received 1sts. Staffordshire University and the University of Kent have done the same, which helped the former gain a 2:1 and Kent maintain its 2:1.

For the first time, universities were asked if they had a sustainable travel policy that included reducing emissions from aviation for staff travel. 27 universities (17%) had such a policy, showing there is much to be achieved in this area. On workers rights, 68 universities (45%) are accredited Living Wage Employers, which is up from 33% last year. 74 universities (49%) have more than a quarter of their staff on fixed-term contracts, showing the extent of precarity in the sector.

Jack Ruane, University League Manager at People & Planet said:

‘We are seeing much higher engagement from a broad range of universities, including the Russell Group, because universities recognise that students are increasingly demanding their institutions are run sustainably and ethically’

Laura Clayson, Campaigns Manager-Climate Justice said:

‘108 UK universities have committed to exclude fossil fuel companies from their investment portfolios, but only 71 have enshrined this into an Ethical Investment Policy. Whilst this is an increase from last year, given our Fossil Free campaign has counted eight more victories since,
not enough have addressed this discrepancy. We call for urgent institutional action to address this. However, thanks to the People & Planet University League, we can celebrate 68% of the sector now publicly listing the committee members responsible forinvestment decisions. Transparency about who holds this power is fundamental - it allows staff, students and the wider community to flag up any concerns they have about potential conflicts of interest. We have also seen a rise from 28% to 33% of universities committing to publicly list investment holdings. This disclosure is crucial for challenging university complicity in the injustices experienced by communities on the frontlines of extraction and the climate crisis. We hope to see an even wider sector shift towards greater transparency next year.’

André Dallas, Co-Director Migrant Justice and Movement Building said:

‘In a year in which the injustices inherent in the maintenance of the UK's brutal hostile environment have been regularly in the headlines, it is promising to see a handful of pioneering universities take a stand by excluding the Border Industry from their investment portfolios. If our universities are to continue to think of themselves as forward-thinking, international communities, it is vital that they break ties with all
companies profiting from the suffering of people seeking sanctuary. We will also continue to monitor and promote the expansion of support for students with insecure immigration status as no-one should be denied access to education on such grounds.’

Fergus Green, Acting Climate Justice Manager (Fossil Free Careers) said:

‘It’s so exciting to see movement throughout the entirety of the 2023/24 People & Planet University League rankings, with more and more institutions challenging for the top spots. But there is much more to be done. It is notable that whilst only 4% of UK universities as a whole have made a policy-level commitment to ending recruitment relationships with the oil, gas, and mining industry, amongst the top 10 performers, a full
30% have such a policy in place. Institutions cannot expect to remain in contention for top spots in a league table based on sustainability and ethics without cutting ties with the very companies most responsible for the climate crisis.’

Notes to Editor

Notes to Editor:

(1) People & Planet is the largest student network in the UK campaigning for social and environmental justice. We envision a future in which spiralling inequality, instability, climate crisis and resource depletion are reversed, and a world in which the balance of power in society has fundamentally shifted to an equal world that benefits all of us. Our mission is to build an empowered generation of change-makers who are equipped with life-long skills, motivation and networks to be a force for change in achieving a more equitable and sustainable world.

(2) In 2022, the People & Planet University League ranked 153 UK universities – awarding them a First class degree, 2:1, 2:2, Third, or Fail – according to 14 criteria including: Environmental policy, auditing and human resources, and their performance in areas such as carbon reduction, waste and water recycling, student engagement, education for sustainable development, energy sources, sustainable food and workers’ rights. The ranking combines information made public by universities online, with raw data obtained from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) 2021/22 Estates Management Record (EMR) covering the period 01 August 2022 to 31 July 2023

(3) The 2023/24 People & Planet University League was researched by a team of trained student and recent graduate volunteers between July-August 2023.

(4) Universities had to demonstrate evidence of fulfilling the criteria in the 2022/23 academic year.

(5) All information aside from HESA EMR data, had to be publicly available on the university website at the time of data collection, between July-August 2023.

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