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Student coalition urges S'pore universities to cut ties with fossil fuel firms by 2030

SINGAPORE — Stopping all funding for scholarships and research from fossil fuel companies are among key recommendations made by a coalition of students urging universities to distance themselves from this heavily polluting industry, in a report the group published on Monday (Jan 17). 

A student coalition would like universities in Singapore to seek sustainable alternatives to replace existing partnerships, sponsorships and funding from the fossil fuel industry. 
A student coalition would like universities in Singapore to seek sustainable alternatives to replace existing partnerships, sponsorships and funding from the fossil fuel industry. 
  • Students for a Fossil Free Future is a coalition formed in 2019 comprising students from various universities in Singapore
  • It published a report on Jan 17 urging universities to distance themselves from the fossil fuel industry 
  • The report said that there are extensive links between Singapore’s universities and the fossil fuel industry
  • These include links in the the areas of finance, management, academia, professional development and the usage of campuses 
  • The report recommends that universities divest themselves of investments in the fossil fuel industry and to stop getting funding from such companies

SINGAPORE — A group of students are urging universities here to stop all funding for scholarships and research from fossil fuel companies and to distance themselves from this heavily polluting industry.

These were among the key recommendations made by the group in a report published on Monday (Jan 17). 

The 68-page report, titled Fossil-Fuelled Universities, detailed what the group said are extensive links between Singapore’s universities and the fossil fuel industry in the areas of finance, management, academia, professional development and the usage of campus spaces.  

Endowment investments of both the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have indirect exposure to fossil fuels, it added.

NUS has a “low single digit” percentage of fossil fuel exposure, equating to about S$59 million, and NTU has not revealed their percentage, the report showed. 

It also stated that NTU has two members in its board of trustees who were senior leaders in fossil fuel companies. NUS, Singapore Management University (SMU), Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and Yale-NUS have one member each. SIM Global Education has one Board member who is currently a senior leader in a fossil fuel company.

Students for a Fossil Free Future (S4F), a student coalition formed in 2019, consists of more than 40 students from NUS, NTU, SUTD, SMU and Yale-NUS (recently merged to become NUS College). They are seeking urgent action to address climate change.

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS  

S4F urges Singapore universities to divest themselves of fossil fuels and seek sustainable alternatives to replace existing partnerships, sponsorships and funding from the fossil fuel industry. 

They also recommend that universities integrate climate crisis education into their curriculum. 

The following a few of its proposed recommendations.

In one to two years, universities could:

  • Restrict the appointment of individuals who now hold or previously held senior leadership positions in a fossil fuel company to universities’ boards 
  • Remove name branding of fossil fuel companies for scholarships and prizes where money is guaranteed in trusts
  • Implement climate crisis education for all students in the universities

In three to five years, universities could:

  • Secure alternative funding from industries committed to a post-carbon transition to replace scholarships and prizes that are now associated with the fossil fuel industry
  • Discontinue existing sponsorship programmes with fossil fuel companies
  • Expand opportunities, resources, and support for university stakeholders to research, learn about and take action on climate change and climate justice within their departments and units

By 2030, universities could:

  • Fully divest the universities of all financial holdings from fossil fuel companies and fossil fuel-linked assets
  • Discontinue all funding for scholarships, prizes and research associated with the fossil fuel industry
  • Stop prevailing industry partnership programmes with fossil fuel companies and the hosting of fossil fuel companies at on-campus career events

When asked about the feasibility of these measures, Mr Shawn Ang, a member of the S4F team, said that the coalition understands it may be difficult for universities to integrate all of these recommendations. 

Mr Ang, an NTU undergraduate student, acknowledged that it may be difficult for universities to dismiss individuals who are already on the universities’ boards.

In these cases, he hopes that these individuals may share their thoughts on SF4’s recommendations and offer solutions, since they have greater experience in the industry. 

However, in terms of ceasing investments in fossil fuel companies, he believes it is possible for universities, especially NUS and NTU, to take this action since they have only a small fraction of investments in such companies. 

He suggested that universities have an “investment screen” to filter fossil-fuel-related companies when choosing potential investments, in the same way that universities now screen out tobacco-related investments. 

“We want to start getting our community to question and think about such partnerships and if these are things we want for our institutions. This can then be a starting point for wider conversations,” the 23-year-old said. 

NUS, NTU and SMU provided comments in response to TODAY's queries.

What NUS says

"In 2021, NUS incepted a sustainable investment policy incorporating environmental sustainability and stating our support in the transition to a greener and more sustainable environment. We will continue to encourage our fund managers to divest from polluting assets."

What SMU says

“SMU is actively developing our approach to environmental, social and governance issues on a university-wide basis, of which responsible investment is one important element. We have initiated a process which will take us forward in important ways in the short, medium and long term.” 

What NTU says

The university is committed to achieving carbon neutrality, along with a 50 per cent reduction in carbon emissions, by 2035. The university’s investment fund does not specifically target the fossil fuel industry, it added.

TODAY has reached out to the other universities mentioned in S4F's report for comment. 

What SIM Global Education says

"SIM is committed to doing our part to help tackle the global climate crisis. In alignment with the Singapore Green Plan 2030, SIM has embarked on an institutional-wide review of our ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) policy. 
 
SIM takes ESG issues into careful consideration, including responsible investments which are managed against global benchmarks." 
 

Related topics

climate change universities NTU NUS SMU fossil fuel

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