University Investments called to account

University. For me? Research. Usyd! Apply. Accepted. Registration. Complete. O week. Free stuff. Too much guarana. Timetable?  Workable. First class? Found and attended! Congratulations, our university education begins. But let’s back track a second. What was it that made us choose Sydney University in the first place?

Is it the 160 year old sandstone buildings that makes us feel as close to Hogwarts as we can be without a wand? Is it the ‘student life’ so sought after? Is it the abundance of lecturers with academic freedom for quality teaching? Is it USYD’s forward research into a sustainable future? Is it the social justice initiatives that such an internationally renowned institution has the capacity for, which makes us as students feel a part of something worthwhile?

While USYD does carry a certain rep for historically derived prestige and bustling student life, I’m willing to guess it wasn’t the later justifications. Perhaps these aren’t always at the forefront of our minds- after all its arguable that the connection between research, investment, education and the outside world is intentionally mystified. But as we witness the cutting of staff on financial grounds alongside a little research into where this capital goes, academica, sustainability or social justice cannot be why we chose USYD. Simply because these reasons would be inaccurate.

We as students are implicated in an institution who’s ‘Investment and Capital management’ (ICM) department’s objective is to  “enhance the overall wealth and fiscal capacity of the University through the adoption and implementation of investment and capital management best practice.” No mention of ethical or sustainable ventures in USYD finance. So what are our investments and who are the investors?  These speak loudly to the interests of our institution. To name three;

  • ANZ, the bank on our student cards, is also the funder of $20 million to companies expanding the coal industry in NSW and QLD. Companies including Rio Tinto, Xstrata, BHP Billiton, Whitehaven which are remembered for oil spills and encroachment on farms and state forests. Surely an ethical investor would reconsider partnerships with socially and environmentally unsustainable fossil fuel projects?
  • BHP Billiton donates a subsequent slice of the $13 million pie to finishing bio-molecular/chemical engineering students. While these grants give futures in the work force, isn’t our university constraining our opportunities for development in sustainable industries?
  • Nuclear weapons – Sydney University invests $2 million into 15 companies that manufacture and manipulate nuclear weaponry. On what grounds can we justify an education institution funding nuclear warfare?

USYD investments don’t stop financially. Our new chancellor, Belinda Hutchinson, is the current director of AGL (known for its propagation of coal seam gas, a socially and environmentally unsound fossil fuel). She is also the former director of the conservative think tank, The Centre for Independent Studies, known for libertarian views on education as a business rather than a quality learning experience. Appointment of leaders with such vested interests again question what USYD really is invested in.

We, as students, are implicated in this system. This is where our fees and SSAF are pooled. But more importantly, these interests fuel our education. This feeds into the centers established, the direction of research, and the scholarships/grant options we receive for our hard earned years of study.
So although it may not be at the forefront of our minds when we choose our institution, our courses or our timetable… maybe it should be?

Want more information? Lock the Campus is a nation-wide campaign looking into investment relationships between university and the Coal/CSG industry.

Visit lockthecampus.org.au to find out more

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