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Don't dither, divest!

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Recently, the University of Glasgow became the first higher education institution to divest its investments from fossil fuel companies.
 
This has been the result of long-term work by Glasgow students and various campaigning groups around the country.
It is a momentous achievement and an important first step for a growing divestment movement in Scotland and the UK.
 
In recent years, students have become more and more engaged with the divestment campaign. On campuses around the country, people are demanding that their institution becomes more transparent and more responsible. And rightly so.
 
At the moment, our very own publicly funded universities are putting money into industries that are killing people and destroying our planet. This is because usually, universities decide what and who to invest in based on which companies will create the highest returns. This means, that they may be funding oil companies that are driving us to a climate crisis or arms companies who provide weapons for murderous regimes.
 
We think this is a disgrace. 
 
Our universities are publicly funded institutions, and they should serve the benefit of the people and of wider society. Too often, their practices don’t reflect these principles. 
 
Investing in fossil fuels and other harmful industries, such as arms, is a clear case of our universities ignoring their social and ethical responsibilities. We want to change this, and that’s why NUS Scotland will be campaigning for divestment in the coming year.
 
For us, the divestment campaign will be part of a bigger piece of work on Democratic & Ethical Institutions. At our Conference last March, NUS Scotland delegates passed motions on creating Democratic & Ethical institutions. This means that we will be working to hold our institutions to account.
 
We’ve already been drawing up a Charter of what a good, responsible institution should look like. After that, we'll work to make sure that our institutions start complying with these responsibilities.
 
The arguments for institutional divestment from fossil fuels are becoming less and less controversial. After all, around 800 global investors, including universities, have pledged to withdraw their investments from companies whose operations are detrimental to people and the environment.
 
The divestment movement is achieving great things all around the world. Standford University has decided to withdraw investments in coal, SOAS down in London has agreed to freeze investment in coal, oil and gas companies and Norway's research ethics council has told its universities that fossil fuel research is "indefensible".
 
In Scotland, student groups in Edinburgh and Aberdeen have made great progress in pushing their institutions to divest over the past couple of years and so we want to help them, and others, along the way.
 
Just now, all eyes should be on Edinburgh. The University recently consulted its students, staff and the local community on how it should handle its investment portfolio. There were early day motions lodged in Holyrood and Westminster calling on the University to cease investing in companies which “flout human rights, exploit workers, pollute heavily or irresponsibly sell armaments”, and in the past couple of years, 1,390 students have signed the petition calling for the University to divest from fossil fuels and arms.
 
On top of that,  the Student Council passed ‘Responsible Investment Campaign’ policy and the University’s own public consultation into its investmen practices showed that the vast majority of respondents were in favour of divestment. 
 
The University holds the largest endowment fund in Scotland, and should to be next to divest from dirty industries. We need to hype up the pressure and support the student campaigners at Edinburgh to make sure the University doesn't shy away from doing the right thing.
 
And its not just Edinburgh we need to put pressure on. Many of our institutions in Scotland have investments in fossil fuels and arms, and they need to withdraw those investments right now.
 
In addition, all our institutions should have solid policy not just on what they invest in, but how they invest. That is, our universities' investment decisions should be open to public scrutiny, and there should be processes in place that allow students and staff to have input into those decisions. 
 
If you want to start a group that works on ethical investment on your campus, get in touch with your students’ association to talk through options. If you are already running a group and want to chat through how NUS Scotland can support your work, do get in touch with me at kirsty.haigh@nus-scotland.org.uk.
 
Lastly, look out for our campaign pack coming out in the next couple of weeks.
 
Happy Divesting!

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