Cambridge joins Responsible Investment Network - UniversitiesLouis Ashworth

The University of Cambridge, University of Edinburgh and St Anne’s College, Oxford have come together to form the Responsible Investment Network - Universities (RINU), a new initiative aiming to help universities invest their endowments positively.

UK investor activist charity ShareAction will run the network with support from the UK’s largest social impact investor, Big Society Capital, and SOS-UK, the National Union of Students’ sustainability charity.

With a total of £5.5 billion in investment among the three universities, the network will help universities learn how to invest positively “so they are not furthering global threats like climate change, ecosystem breakdowns and inequality,” Lily Tomson, Head of Networks at ShareAction, told Times Higher Education.

Student-led campaign Cambridge Zero Carbon Society has continued to challenge the University's investments, resulting in an increasing number of colleges, including Selwyn, Emmanuel, and most recently Jesus College, withdrawing all direct investments in the fossil fuel industry.

According to Ms Tomson, focusing only on divestment from fossil fuels “oversimplified and polarised the discussion… It’s an important debate, and over half of UK universities have divested, but it’s not the only strategy at their disposal”.

Ms Thomson said universities are uncertain about how to use their finances ethically besides divesting from fossil fuels, commenting that “many of them hold a lot of land; what does responsible investment in land look like?”

The RINU, joined on an annual membership basis, will provide access to bespoke research on ethical investment and the opportunity for universities to share their experiences.

Ms Thomson explained that the network will teach universities how to challenge their investment managers and other advisers effectively. It will also help them ensure they invest in companies that pay the living wage and support local communities, as well as showing them how to spot genuinely ethical companies.

It will further aid universities with how they communicate with their students about where their endowment is invested.

Ms Tomson said the new network had no plans to expand too quickly, but that other universities are expected to sign up soon.

“We are interested in universities that have the motivation to really develop as responsible investors and don’t see it as a one-off, tick-box exercise... in a way, I’d be disappointed if every UK university joined at this stage,” she said.


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John Ford, treasurer of St Anne’s College, said the college joined because it was “keen to work collaboratively with like-minded investors and to learn more about the difference that shareholder engagement can make”.

Cambridge Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope argued “joining the Responsible Investment Network - Universities is the next step forward in the University of Cambridge’s commitment to the global energy transition,” and that he looks “forward to working with RINU members on supporting the decarbonisation of the modern economy”.

Last October, the Cambridge University Council published an update on an ongoing report elaborating the advantages and disadvantages of a University-wide divestment policy, citing Dr Quigley’s recommendation that the institution should join the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC) and the Responsible Investment Network – Universities (RINU).

The final report is set to be submitted to the Council by July 2020.