Just Stop Oil protests hit universities across the UK

Over the past week, ten universities have been targeted by Just Stop Oil protesters in their campaign against UK universities’ financial involvement with oil companies.

The protests started Monday 9th October when Ben Maheen, 21, a filmmaking student at UWE, sprayed the University of Bristol’s Queen’s Building with orange paint before being arrested by 6 policemen.

Bristol University has been criticised due to its managing its finances through Barclays Bank, which has funnelled $5.5 trillion into coal, oil and gas in the seven years since the Paris Agreement. Despite being the first UK university to declare a climate emergency in 2019, the university still manages staff salaries, student fees and research funding through Barclays.

Prior to the vandalism, Ben said:

“I’m taking action because I can’t stand by while universities are complicit with the very systems that are destroying everything we care about.”

Other students appear to hold the same sentiment as the next day brought two more Just Stop Oil attacks on university buildings: the University of Oxford’s Radcliffe Camera, and ‘The Forum’ on the University of Exeter campus.

Radcliffe Camera, a library built in the 18th century, is regarded as an iconic staple of Oxford University and is popular among tourists. The library was sprayed with orange paint by two students, Daniel Knorr, 21, and Noah Crane, 18.

Image by Amelia Parry

Before his actions, Daniel Knorr criticised the complacency of Oxford and its academics regarding the climate crisis:

“I am taking action to resist the destruction of my generation… This is mass murder. It is genocide.”

Exeter University’s ‘The Forum’ sits at the heart of the campus and was attacked by George Simonson, 23, a mechanical engineering graduate from the University of Edinburgh. George similarly criticised British politicians and universities for their lack of action against climate change:

“The politicians have been bought, and educational institutions are absolutely complicit in allowing them to continue this genocide. Universities are accepting tens of millions in dirty money… Students have a duty to step up and show teaching institutions we won’t stand for it anymore.”

The University of Exeter has been the biggest recipient of fossil fuel company funding out of UK universities since 2022, holding a formal Framework Agreement with Shell signed in 2017. Shell has been under fire for its contribution to carbon emissions. It has been estimated the that company’s planned emissions from 2018 to 2030 will be responsible for almost 1.6% of the global carbon budget.

Wednesday 11th October saw a continuation in the trend of Just Stop Oil protests as UCL, the University of Birmingham, the University of Sussex, the University of Falmouth and the University of Exeter were all vandalised with orange paint.

Before painting the Link building, located on the shared Penryn Campus belonging to Falmouth and Exeter Universities, Holly Astle, 28, an illustration student from Falmouth, explained her motivation behind the action:

“We are angry that universities continue to prop up the government as they drill for new oil in an act of violence against the young. Students and staff alike must join us in civil resistance to stand up against this injustice.”

The most recent attacks were seen on Thursday 12th October in Manchester, Cambridge and Leeds.

The University of Manchester’s Alan Gilbert building was the target of vandalism by Ruby Hamill, 19. After using a fire extinguisher to spray orange paint over the building and painting ‘Just Stop Oil’ on the windows with her hands, she was arrested by 20 police officers in total.

According to a Just Stop Oil spokesman, the number of officers who came to Ruby’s arrest is “a massive state overreach” and “shows how scared they are that young people are resisting a government that is intent on destroying Ruby’s entire generation. Young people have every right to defend themselves and those they love against this government that is intent on killing millions for profit.”

Chiara Sarti, 24, a PhD student in the Cambridge Department of Computer Science, was responsible for the vandalism of the gatehouse at King’s College. Speaking before the vandalism, Chiara said:

“New oil and gas is a death sentence. Young people have been completely betrayed… We have a moral imperative to do whatever it nonviolently takes to stop them.”

Sam Holland, a former student at the University of Leeds who studied Human Geography, spoke ahead of using a fire extinguisher to paint the Great Hall at Leeds University:

“The government licences genocidal new oil and gas drilling with no resistance from universities who research the starvation, social collapse and murder that it will result in.”

Manchester, Cambridge and Leeds have been within the top 10 recipients of fossil fuel company funding since 2022, receiving a combined funding of over £6.3 million.

These protests are in response to UK universities accepting over £40 million from fossil fuel companies since 2022. The protests follow the unprecedented heatwave in September, with temperatures being recorded at 30C or higher for seven consecutive days.

No further attacks on universities have been reported since. Durham University, falling under the top ten beneficiaries of fossil fuel companies, is unlikely to be targeted by Just Stop Oil protesters.


Featured Image: Alisdare Hickson via Flickr

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