Around 75 emails are understood to have been sent by students protesting the Endowment Fund Supervisory BodyAmy Howell

An email drive event organised by the Cambridge Students’ Union (SU) and Cambridge Zero Carbon Society took place on Tuesday night (20/04) to push against changes to the democratic governance of the University’s investments.

The proposed changes would shift governance of the Cambridge University Endowment Fund (CUEF) from 20 student and staff members elected on the University Council to a new Endowment Fund Supervisory Body (EFSB). The EFSB would consist of six individuals, all required to have “adequate relevant professional experience in finance”, excluding nearly all students and staff within the University. Three members would be drawn from the University Council, with the rest coming from external institutions.

Currently, the elected staff members of University Council have authority over the management of the CUEF. The CUEF is the University’s £3.5 billion endowment which is then invested through fund managers, with the income supporting research, education and development across the University.

The SU estimates that 75 emails were sent to members of Regent House during the email drive event last night, the University’s governing body, encouraging them to vote against the proposal and effectively bring it to a halt.

“Staff and students will lose access to the democratic channels”, the email drive’s Facebook page details, “through which they are able to hold the University accountable for its uses of the Endowment Fund - including ties to the fossil fuel and arms industry.”

The SU’s blog claims that the University “has attempted to remove the oversight of student representatives and drastically reduce the influence of staff over their investment policy”.

It continues: “We need as many academics as possible to vote in the ballot and reject the proposal to establish an Endowment Fund Supervisory Body. As this is a proposal that will detrimentally reduce the accountability of the CUEF to university members, we believe that university members should have their say about whether they think it should be implemented.”

“The original Council decision to approve this proposal was shifty and underhand”, the blog adds, “clearly designed to shut out the staff and students who have fought so hard to hold the University and its investments to account. If a supervisory Body is to be established, it should have proper representation from the staff and students who fundamentally make up this university.”

“We are fighting against the university’s consistent attempts to shut us out and for a democratic university in which staff and students are meaningfully involved in decision-making and financial oversight.”

The proposal was originally passed by University Council and subsequently published in the Reporter in December 2020, alongside a note of dissent expressing opposition to the proposal from three Council members.

The note of dissent was heavily critical of the policy, branding the proposed EFSB “a quasi-autonomous entity populated entirely by self-anointing members who have ‘relevant professional experience in finance’.”

In a Regent House discussion in February 2021, other members of academic staff similarly expressed concerns, with Professor Gillian R. Evans commenting that the proposal posed a “risk of governance-drift away from the supervision of the University’s governing body, the Regent House.”

Following this, a coalition of staff and students including Cambridge SU, Cambridge UCU and Cambridge Zero Carbon have forced this decision to be brought to a vote in Regent House - which will take place from 19th-29th April. The coalition is encouraging Regent House members to vote against the proposal and effectively bring it to a halt.

In an online statement, they collectively stated that “this proposal would effectively exclude all student and staff representatives from the governance of the [CUEF], making the University’s investment decisions significantly less democractic and transparent.”

The coalition adds, “the strong backlash to the proposal necessitates a re-starting of the process which fully involves the views of the whole University Community.”

Cambridge UCU commented, “The EFSB cedes control of CUEF to ‘investment professionals’ who, experience suggests, have extremely conservative looking views on ethical investing. The EFSB will act as an intermediary or buffer that will be able to deflect such expressed wishes of the broader University. The Vice Chancellor will be powerless to fulfil any commitments that he has made on divestment - such commitments therefore will be no more than empty promises. The proposal therefore undermines the democratic processes of the Collegiate University.”

Cambridge Zero Carbon added: “the representation of students and academics on University Council has been fundamental to the fight for divestment.”

“This restructuring was originally proposed in an underhand way without input from University members who will be directly disempowered as a result. If this is implemented, it will be much more difficult for staff and students to hold the University and its investments to account.”

They added, “while the vote was accepted by the University in late February, the University refused to publish its Legal Advice stating ‘legal privilege’.” Following pressure from members of Regent House, the written legal advice was finally made accessible to members of the University in mid-March.


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In the flysheets published alongside the link for Regent House members to vote, Professor Graham Allen, current elected Chair of the University’s Board of Scrutiny, argued that some of the grounds for the legal advice “appear weak and based more in theory than in reality.”

A University spokesperson told Varsity: “It is misleading to suggest that the creation of the EFSB diminishes any of the University’s existing control over its investments in the CUEF. It does not. The University can continue to express its preferences and may redeem its investments from the CUEF if it wishes to do so, like any of the other investors in the CUEF, which include Colleges, educational trusts and donors.”

They added: “The new supervisory body simply enables effective management of conflicts of interest arising as a result of the University being both majority investor and corporate trustee, and its establishment brings management of the Fund squarely into line with current Financial Conduct Authority rules governing the fair treatment of all investors in funds which manage assets for multiple investors.”

Meanwhile a CUEF spokesperson told Varsity: “Since the Council’s response to the Divestment Working Group’s report in 2018, the £3.6 billion Cambridge University Endowment Fund has created a publicly available website that provides updated information on its activities, published three publicly available Annual Reports, hired a sustainable investments officer, withdrawn its investments with conventional energy-focused public equity managers as well as announced its aims to ramp up investments in renewable energy by 2025, divest from all meaningful direct and indirect investments in fossil fuels by 2030, and achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions across its entire portfolio by 2038.”

A second email drive event is due to take place next Thursday (29/04).