Don’t congatulate UCL bosses for divestment, they’ve suppressed students and funded the climate emergency for years

UCL has finally decided to divest from fossil fuel extraction and production companies. ‘London’s Global University’ has been profiting from these corporations for years. Fossil fuel companies have been exploiting, colonizing, oppressing and starving communities wherever profit could be made. Perhaps the ‘global’ in UCL’s slogan indicates the neo-colonial practices these companies perpetrate.

Divestment from fossil fuels corporations should have come much earlier. UCL has spent years ignoring this key demand. Despite its cuddly public statements about reusable cups, UCL maintained an exploitative and classist status quo that transformed our university in a profit-centered estate agent. It became a structurally racist oil and gas investor.

The dirty business of fossil fuels is not new, and the Fossil Free UCL campaign has fought it since 2012. However, the university management has constantly silenced and challenged us. These same bosses, unsurprisingly, followed wherever their fossil fuel friends would lead them. They supressed students’ voices throughout the long years of our campaign. Meanwhile, the management dined Shell and BP directors, looking for profit and the complete dismantling of UCL’s weakening democratic structure.

Decades of support for climate-wrecking corporations

Our struggle against the UCL power structure, hence, became one for radical changes in the university’s approach to sustainability. It also became a struggle against the repression of protest, surveillance and policing. The management’s announcement to be ‘ever more active in tackling the global climate emergency … as a leader in environmental and social sustainability’ sounds sweet. But this greenwashes an institution that’s financed and supported climate-wrecking corporations for years. The truth is this: for years UCL has deliberately moved towards an undemocratic and rigidly hierarchical organisation. The bosses put power and profit in the hands of a few managers, at the expense of UCL’s students.

UCL management have yet to address increasing rent in student halls, policing of international students, neglected colonial legacies in the curriculum, underfunded mental health support and staff outsourcing. They evidently struggle to put into practice the values they advertises on their colorful website. These issues, however, embarrassingly remain actively disregarded. 

The university bosses have used all their tools to treat other campaigns the way they batted away Fossil Free. Ignoring, resisting and threatening students and workers are typical traits in UCL’s approach to every demand for a fair and accessible institution. Such practices will unfortunately continue.

Divesting now – after years of students’ campaigning – is not a symbol of positive change by UCL management. It shows, late in the day, that they used all means, to tear up our right to make higher education better, more accessible and fairer for students.

Pietro Fioretta is a UCL student and a member of Fossil Free UCL.

Photo credit: Fossil Free UCL.

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