Top universities in Britain have received more than £60m in funding from the fossil fuels sector in the past five years, despite commitments to adopt more green initiatives.
An investigation by The Independent into earth sciences departments at Russell Group universities revealed that the institutions have continued to accept funding from the oil, gas and coal industry amidst pressures from students and environmental groups.
The largest recipient of fossil fuel funding by far was Imperial College London, acquiring £30.1m. One such project that resulted from the funding was research into more efficient ways of extracting oil.
The University of Leeds was the next largest beneficiary at £11.2m, followed by the University of Edinburgh (£7.5m), the University of Oxford (£4.8m) and the University of Cambridge (£1.6m).
The University of Warwick accepted £554k in funding from oil, coal and gas industries.
Rachel Kennerly of Friends of the Earth told The Independent: “Our universities shape the way we think about the world and how we approach problems like the climate crisis. Money from companies that have a vested interest in digging up and burning coal, oil and gas should not have any influence over that.”
Higher education is a public good and so universities should receive proper government funding so they do not need to rely on attracting money from private interests
– Professor Molly Scott Cato
Earth science departments at the universities of York, Birmingham, Nottingham, Queen Mary, Queen’s Belfast and Southampton claim that they have not been granted funds by the fossil fuel sector since 2015.
A spokesperson from Imperial College London stated: “Industry-supported research is helping us develop meaningful solutions to climate change. Our scientists and engineers are working at the leading edge of clean and sustainable energy technology as we work towards a zero pollution economy.
“Where companies’ current activities and future plans are not aligned with Imperial’s policies, and efforts at influence do not work, we will sever ties.”
Professor Molly Scott Cato, former Green Party Member of the European Parliament and green economics researcher, told The Independent: “While universities continue to defend academic freedom, it seems naïve to suggest that these companies do not receive anything in return for their money and there are clear concerns over what projects even get picked up when universities are relying on money from fossil fuel companies.
“Higher education is a public good and so universities should receive proper government funding so they do not need to rely on attracting money from private interests.”