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University leaders come together to discuss responsible investment

Mel Kee
We convened a roundtable for Higher Education (HE) senior leaders on responsible investment, and the important role universities can play in challenging the status quo in the finance sector.

The roundtable, which was hosted by the University of Winchester, welcomed representatives from across 15 different organisations to discuss the important topic. We were joined by Vice-Chancellors and Finance Directors from individual universities, as well as sector wide bodies.

The event created an opportunity to support universities to start exploring an important action the sector could be taking to identify and address the environmental and social implications of how we are investing our money.

Responsible investment is an approach to investment that explicitly acknowledges the relevance to the investor of environmental, social and governance factors. (1) These factors could include risks such as those posed by climate change, poor labour standards, and governance corruption scandals. However, they may also present opportunities, such as investing in renewable energy companies or social housing development projects. (2)

 

The roundtable focussed on two key questions:

  • What challenges does the HE sector facing when tackling responsible investment? What are barriers for progress?
  • How can we move forward on the responsible investment agenda? What are the opportunities?

 

Discussion varied from the need for more education around investments and ethical finance, the importance of student engagement and successful collaboration with student leaders, the challenge of measuring impact and the opportunities for active engagement with companies to change wider practices. There was also lots of discussion around aligning investment portfolios with net zero targets, as well as the way in which universities could explore social impact investments, inspired by some interesting examples from the sector. (4) (5)

Talking about the importance of this work, Professor Joy Carter, Vice Chancellor at the University of Winchester said:

"Universities are principled and progressive - we should be using our money to build a better society, by investing in line with our values and challenging the status quo. We can and should be actively working collaboratively across the sector to invest, and engage with investments, for positive change."

 

Lily Tomson, Head of Networks at ShareAction, who coordinates the Responsible Investment Network - Universities, spoke about the cost of inaction:

"There's some great work happening across the sector, but it's far from the scale that this moment calls for. Covid-19 has clearly shown how investments can be put in jeopardy by systemic risks - but also the potential power investors have as systemic actors."

 

Finally, Amanda Scully, Vice President Community at Edinburgh University Students' Association articulated why students play a crucial role in this:

"Students want to see their universities taking action on sustainability commitments. The University of Edinburgh has moved over £60 million (6) into positive investments and constructive engagement between students and the University has been key throughout. Students may not be experts in finance, but they are experts in the kind of world they want to graduate into and its vital we listen to, and work with, them."

 

For universities looking to work on responsible investment there are a number of resources available:

Invest for Change supports students to engage with their universities to become leaders in responsible investment, centring environmental and social justice solutions within their investment practices. The campaign have produced a guide for universities and a resource for developing a responsible investment policy. More resources can be found here.

Get in touch to discuss how we can support your university.

Responsible Investment Network - Universities (RINU) creates a space for members to develop and share knowledge, build a community of practice, and work together to champion social and responsible investment.

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