The Student
Image shows the University of Edinburgh logo
Opinion
Big fanfare, few meaningful actions
by Dan Sharpe, 2/04/21

This week The Student reported that the University of Edinburgh has failed to truly end fossil fuel investments. Despite announcing to great fanfare that “the University has divested from fossil fuels,” as permitted by the wording of the announcement, they continue to hold £39.1 million in BlackRock who have refused to divest from extractive industries.

In the press release from the university regarding investment, Peter Mathieson reaffirmed the principle that “by shifting our investments out of fossil fuels and into organisations and funds that positively impact society and the environment, we’re playing our part in fostering a lower-carbon, healthier, more sustainable and equitable future.”

It appears that the principle of “playing our part” is not a hard and fast rule. The “lower-carbon” future aim appears to apply for part of the money the university invests.

It feels as though the university has tried to make such a show of the incomplete action in an attempt to hide the failure to truly change. To truly make a principled stance, the university should divest not part, but all of its vast riches from industries it accepts are damaging.

The second sphere of disappointing inaction is in mental health support. The university recently announced “check-in calls” where students could opt in to have a member of the university’s “team of mentors” call and ensure students know how to access support.

A good idea in theory, perhaps, but when the services these struggling students are pointed towards are crumbling under the weight of demand, it feels a token gesture. The website sign-up promised “a friendly chat” and the opportunity “to talk about anything that’s on your mind”, yet a friend who signed up felt that the call was “not an opportunity to vent.”

Whilst I don’t doubt that the individual mentors are doing the best job they can, it feels as though the university’s concern would be better directed at improving existing support structures.

It is one thing to offer a short chat, and quite another to improve the counselling service waiting list, a form of support which some, if not all, of these students who opt in may need.

In isolation, either of these could be seen as imperfect attempts to deal with complex issues. But together, they create a portrait of a university which wants to show the world it is ‘changing’ without adapting in ways that would truly improve the situation for their students or its impact on the world.

Listen to us and examine yourself. Make changes which speak for themselves rather than requiring weaselly-words to hide the truth.

Image: James Stewart via Flickr