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Report shows Oxford accepted £1.2 million in funding from fossil fuel companies in 2022

Oxford University was the sixth-largest beneficiary of funding from fossil fuel companies out of all UK universities in 2022-23, according to an investigation by DeSmog, a climate-focused news site. Forty-four UK higher education institutions received a total of £40 million from oil and gas firms over the past year, of which Oxford received £1.2 million.

Out of the 32 contributing corporations, Shell, Malaysian state-owned Petronas and BP were the highest contributors, providing over 76% of the total funding to these institutions by fossil fuel companies. Oil and gas giants such as ExxonMobil, Chevron and Saudi Aramco were also involved in these philanthropic activities.

Oxford pledged to divest its endowment from fossil fuels in April 2020, but have maintained partnerships with oil and gas firms in order to fund research activities and scholarship programmes. For instance, two scholarships aimed at African postgraduate students studying at Saïd Business School and at St Antony’s College, respectively, were established in 2022, funded by Eni, the Italian multinational oil company.

A spokesperson for the University said: “Our partnerships with industry allow the University to apply its knowledge to real challenges of pressing global concern, with funding often going directly into research into climate-related issues and renewables. Philanthropic funding has been used to widen access to education and to fund scholarships, academic posts, and capital costs, while the proportion of research funding going into fossil fuel exploration and extraction has declined significantly over the last decade and the percentage going into renewables projects has increased.”

The average annual funding accepted by all UK universities from sources linked to fossil fuels seems to have increased in recent years: openDemocracy reported in December 2021 that in the four years since 2017, oil and gas firms had donated almost £90 million to UK higher education institutions, which, averaged would correspond to a much lower amount than was received in 2022-23. 

Over the same four years, Oxford received an average of just under £2 million per year, a considerably higher figure than in 2022-23, suggesting that the University is reducing its reliance on funding from these sources.

The environmental activist group Just Stop Oil included the most recent numbers in a press release published last Tuesday after they took responsibility for spray painting the Radcliffe Camera

The continued fossil fuels funding comes against the backdrop of a funding crisis in UK higher education: the loss of around £800 million a year in EU financial support due to Brexit, coupled with an extended period of high inflation, have led universities to be in an increasingly precarious financial position.

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