NUS is fighting back against the links between universities and fossil fuels

NUS is backing a new campaign calling for universities to stop advertising careers in the fossil fuel industry to students

A photo of students campaigning against fossil fuels with a banner reading "Fossil Free Careers"

Under increasing pressure from staff and students, universities are withdrawing their money from fossil fuel companies. But the fight for social and climate justice is far from over, and the next step must see institutions stop promoting fossil fuel careers on their campuses. 

Universities know they’re on thin ice with many of their students. Legacies of colonial and climate violence are being exposed by student-led grassroots campaigns, and the facade of UK universities as places of openness, freedom, growth and opportunity is crumbling. 

Our universities today have been built on the obscene amount of wealth obtained from colonial exploits including but not limited to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The University of Manchester joins the University of Glasgow in publicly reporting how much of its wealth was gained from slavery, though one could (and should) interrogate this further. This almost certainly isn’t the full picture when it comes to historical wealth gained from systematic violence to people and planet, when we consider wealth gained from pillaging Native land, establishing plantations, and more. 

This isn’t to mention the wealth currently being obtained through systematic violence. Universities are still ground zero for colonial oppression and climate devastation. Institutions are still making money off violence not only through investment portfolios, but through various means only made possible by the capitalist, marketised nature of the institutions. This is particularly apparent when you look at the recruitment pipelines they promote at careers fairs. They’re directly tempting students into oil, gas, and arms companies with generous pay, benefits and holiday packages, making climate devastation seem palatable. Restructuring our education – and our society at large – to be fully free, accessible, and publicly funded would allow us to eradicate all of this.  

The movement for an end to institutions’ involvement with the fossil fuel industry is inextricably linked to justice. We know that climate exploitation on such a large scale began with the mass theft of Indigenous land and African bodies to create plantations and, later, industrial cities. We know that today the extraction of oil and gas is inextricable from racist proxy wars waged by the USA and UK in the Middle East. We know that arms companies are among the biggest polluters of our planet and are also responsible for the deaths of countless people across the globe. 

Students are fighting back and saying that this isn’t good enough. They have been for years, but this year the National Union of Students’ (NUS) Decolonise Education campaign has been working together with incredible organisations like Students Organising for Sustainability, People & Planet, Demilitarise Education and Campaign Against the Arms Trade to make these connections. To show that colonial and climate violence are one and the same, that there is no climate justice without racial, disability, and gender justice. An open letter signed by over 800 individuals and organisations in the UK has called for universities to end all forms of complicity in colonial violence, and the ‘Divest to Decolonise’ toolkit provides students with a template for identifying and resisting their universities and colleges’ connections to the arms trade and fossil fuel industry through banks, research links, careers services, investments, sponsorships and more.  

That’s why NUS is proud to announce our support for People & Planet’s Fossil Free Careers campaign. They’re showing us that the fight doesn’t stop at investment portfolios – heck, it doesn’t even stop at careers pipelines, but we’re always ready to take the next step. Kicking arms dealers, oil and gas companies out of our careers services and off our campuses is an inevitable part of the fight for the liberation of all land and life.  

Universities have a choice. They can choose to continue with this destructive status-quo, directly and indirectly causing harm across the globe, or they can oppose this planet-killing collaboration. Extraction and career services do not need to be linked, and right now they can begin dismantling recruitment pipelines into the oil, gas, and mining industry. 

Students across the UK are seeing through the hypocrisy. No amount of disingenuous diversity schemes or greenwashing campaigns will fool us. We refuse to be complicit, and we refuse to let this go on. 

 Sara Khan is the Vice-President for Liberation and Equality at National Union of Students

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