Exploring Lancaster University’s ‘Questionable’ Investment Choices

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Editors Note: Due to criticism received from LUXR, SCAN made the decision to take down the original post of this article and make changes to reflect the importance of LUXR’s report. We apologise for not showing that in the original article and thank them for bringing it to our attention.

Here’s a riddle. What’s worth millions of pounds and not known to many? Well, the answer to that question is, ‘The Four Investment Funds of Lancaster University’. For years, these investment funds have been in the public domain but in spite of that, not many people are aware of the funds’ existence, and even fewer know about the finer details.

So, in light of the recent petition organized by the Lancaster University Extinction Rebellion Society (LUXR) – demanding that the university divest from companies associated with the fossil fuel and the arms industry – and based on the original report conducted by LUXR, SCAN decided to conduct its own research into the intricacies of these four funds and explore the university’s investment choices.

As per the report prepared by LUXR, last year alone, the university, across its 4 portfolios, invested a whopping £3.2 million in stock holdings, and a significant portion of this amount – about £250,000 – went into investment funds that held positions in fossil-fuel related companies.  This is quite a surprising choice considering the fact that the university professes itself as an environment-friendly institution through various means including the formulation of policies like the Sustainability Plan and the organization of activities like the Sustainability Challenge and Green Lancaster. Details of the university’s investments in fossil fuels were revealed last October by Jack O’Dwyer-Henry at the LUSU AGM, in his motion on the climate emergency, in which it is listed how much the university invests in various fossil fuel companies.

Therefore, it would be ironic for the university to, on one hand, portray itself as a sustainable institution and, on the other hand, to significantly invest its money in companies that are associated with an industry that is widely believed to be a major contributor of environment-harming pollutants.

In addition to the fossil fuel industry, the report also states that the university has invested a significant amount of money in the arms industry. In 2019 alone, about £100,000 went into investment funds that held positions in military-related companies. These investments are questionable not on environmental grounds, but on moral grounds. This is because the university has invested a sizeable amount of its money in a defence firm that exports its products and services to a country that has a stellar record when it comes to (mis)using their defence equipment to indulge in activities that can be classified as morally bankrupt at best and criminal at worst.

Therefore, by continuing to invest in such firms, Lancaster University is potentially implying to people that it is willing to turn a blind eye to the activities that are occurring overseas and this is a stain that we, the members of this university did not seek nor did we invite and it is a scar that we are not very eager to carry.

But as mentioned earlier, there are also some positive aspects to these investment fund. As per the LUXR report, they include the university’s decision to invest about £115,000 in green energy-related companies in the year 2019 alone. This is an excellent choice of investment because it sends a clear message stating that Lancaster University is committed to the cause of sustainability. However, if the university, on the other hand, continues to significantly invest its money in the fossil fuels industry then there is a risk of this message getting diminished to a point where it no longer remains effective and relevant. 

Another positive aspect is that out of the university’s four investment portfolios, two have little to no investments in the arms industry, while the third portfolio invests twice the amount of money in green energy-related companies than it does in the fossil fuel industry.

All things considered, it can be safely concluded that Lancaster University has taken certain positive financial measures towards the cause of sustainability, but in light of the negative aspects, these steps are just not enough and there is a long way to go before the university can be termed as a truly sustainable institution of higher learning.

SCAN contacted the university’s Press Office for a comment and the spokesperson provided us with the following response:

“We appreciate this is an area of interest. We continue to make progress with our policy to invest in companies actively looking for solutions to environmental challenges associated with growing populations, climate change and resources scarcity through innovation, technology and the intelligent use of natural resources.”

Please note that the abovementioned findings are accurate as of 1st January 2020. Click here to view the original LUXR report that has been cited and referred to in the article.

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