Cambridge University considers ending collaboration with Barclays and Lloyds

Leaked documents revealed the university has concerns over the banks’ links to fossil fuels

Leaked documents revealed last week that Cambridge University is considering ending its partnerships with Barclays and Lloyds due to the banks’ investments in fossil fuels.

Minutes from a council meeting at King’s College held on 28th May which were leaked to Varsity suggested that the university has been exploring alternative banks with which to collaborate.

The minutes also included comments from a King’s College bursar, who suggested that King’s is “part of a concerted effort, with the university and other colleges, that has been engaging with and putting pressure on the major UK banks (particularly Barclays and Lloyds) to improve their practices”.

Despite consistent criticism towards Barclays and Lloyds amongst the student body throughout the academic year, including Trinity Hall JCR switching banks, so far there has been little concrete progression towards the university cutting ties with both banks.

However, the leaked council minutes appear to suggest that action towards finding alternative banking partners is “now progressing, with 24 respondents and 14 proposals able to move forward to the next stage of evaluation”.

The college currently plans to identify alternative banks with which to collaborate in Michaelmas of the next academic year and will potentially set the precedent for “coordinated action across the collegiate university”.

Nevertheless, it remains unclear whether Cambridge University will attempt to enact “reform from within”, utilising their partnership with the banks to encourage them to divest from fossil fuel companies rather than completely severing these partnerships.

Although the leaked documents appear to reveal that King’s is seriously considering ending their relationship with Barclays and Lloyds, most of Cambridge’s 31 colleges collaborate with one of the two banks.

In response to the council meeting minutes being leaked, a spokesman for the university has claimed that King’s stance towards the two banks are not representative of the wider university’s attitudes.

The university’s attitude is complicated by its involvement in the Banking Engagement Forum, which reviews its arrangements and involves almost 70 other higher education institutions.

However, it is clear that Cambridge students are adamant on opposing the university’s current ties to fossil fuel companies.

Whilst the university has pledged to divest £4 billion of direct and indirect investments in fossil fuels before 2030, Barclays was the biggest European funder of the fossil fuel sector between 2016 and 2021, according to Rainforest Action Network.

In 2022, the bank provided £13 billion for fossil fuel companies, a significantly lower amount than in the preceding years. The company claimed thereafter that it would no longer directly fund new oil and gas projects.

In comparison, Lloyds has “minor” links to fossil fuel companies, as reported by Which? in October 2023.

In addition to its fossil fuel ties, Barclays has also received criticism from Cambridge students for its investments in arms companies involved in the conflict in Gaza.

Students staged a “die-in” outside the Cambridge Barclays branch in January 2024, accusing the company of compliance in the ongoing violence in the region.

Whilst it remains unclear whether the university will completely severe its ties to both Barclays and Israel, the leaked documents certainly indicate a previously unprecedented step towards the end of the university’s collaboration with both banks.

Featured image via Tim Alex on Unsplash.

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