Divestment campaigners held several rallies in the lead-up to the University Council's divestment decision, which rejected recommendations to expressly ban indirect investments in tar sands and thermal coalLouis Ashworth

Four senior members of Cambridge’s investment office have resigned from their positions, out of a staff of nine.

Chief Investment Officer Nick Cavalla will leave the investment office later this year, alongside colleagues Bruce Lockwood, Conor Cassidy and Vincent Fruchard.

Their resignations come four months after a divestment working group report called for the office’s practices to be made more transparent at the tail end of mounting pressure from staff and student activists for the University to divest its endowment from fossil fuels.

Recap: What was Council’s decision on divestment in June?

University Council’s landmark decision on divestment, passed in an extraordinary meeting of Council last month, decided against any commitment to full (or partial) divestment, and rejected recommendations from its divestment working group that it eliminate all remaining indirect investments from tar sands and thermal coal, the most pollutive industries in the sector.

It also decided against adopting the recommendation by its divestment working group that it allocate 10% of its endowment specifically into Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) Funds, opting instead to hire an ‘ESG officer’ to be employed in the Investment Office.

The two student representatives on the Council, then-CUSU President Daisy Eyre and then-GU President Darshana Joshi, submitted notes of dissent to the decision at the time. A separate note of dissent was submitted by Council members Professor Nick Gay and Dr Alice Hutchings.

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The Financial Times reported two people familiar with Cavalla’s resignation said he believed the debate around divestment has left staff unable to get on with their “jobs of trying to maximise the value of their endowment”.

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The four senior members oversaw the university endowment fund's main investment pot worth £3.3bn.

Cambridge’s investment office manages its investments and £6.3bn endowment – the centre of the divestment debate. The University currently holds no direct investments in the fossil fuels sector’s most pollutive industries, and has a policy of keeping its indirect investments in tar sands and thermal coal industries “to the bare minimum.”

Explainer Making sense of the University’s investments structure

The University of Cambridge’s investments are overseen by the Investment Office (IO), which is a subsidiary of the University and manages its endowment, the Cambridge University Endowment Fund (CUEF). The development of its investment policy is overseen by the University Council and the Investment Board, whose main objective is “to maximise the total return from the University’s investments within an acceptable risk exposure”.

The Investment Office, which was established in 2008, has relationships with third-party fund managers who operate pooled funds and other investment vehicles. Like many charities and higher education institutions, the University does not have direct control over the vast majority of its investment portfolio.

The office’s expertise lies in assessment of external fund manager activity and in identification of funds which will yield high returns for the University.

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Pro-divestment campaigning group Cambridge Zero Carbon Society had previously called for Cavalla’s resignation after the Council’s divestment decision in June, saying in a statement: “We call on the University’s Chief Financial Officer Anthony Odgers, Chief Investment Officer Nick Cavalla and Director of Finance David Hughes, hired from Shell, to resign.”

Speaking on Cavalla’s resignation, Vice-chancellor Stephen Toope said: “He has transformed the performance of our investment fund, enabling us to diversify our income in a way that has allowed the University to undertake developments which have greatly benefited our academic mission and our students”. 

Mia Watanabe, a spokesperson for Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, commented on the four resignations of Investment Office staff: “Now is the time to build an open, transparent Investment Office, an office led by the concerns of staff and students and fully divested from fossil fuels”, adding that the plan “to reject divestment [...] carries no legitimacy”. 


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Council’s divestment decision has been formally challenged – can it evade democratic scrutiny?

In late July, two formal requests for a review of the Council decision were submitted – one by Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, and the other by a group of academics. They await a response within three months of submission.

The four senior members are set to join Talisman Global Asset Management, the investment arm for the Pears family – one of the wealthiest families in the UK.

Cavalla said that it “felt like the right time to take on a new challenge” away from the University, after joining in 2008.

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