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Major universities unite to align investments with values – launching responsible investment network

Three higher education establishments have founded a network with the vision of building a better world by aligning their investments with their missions, and using their endowments to benefit society and the environment.

Three higher education establishments have founded a network with the vision of building a better world by aligning their investments with their missions, and using their endowments to benefit society and the environment.

The Universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, and St Anne’s College, Oxford have formed the Responsible Investment Network – Universities (RINU), which launched today. ShareAction will run the network with support from the UK’s largest social impact investor, Big Society Capital, and the National Union of Students’ sustainability charity, SOS-UK. The universities, representing around £5.4 billion, are united in their ambitions to create positive change through their investment practices. They will share ideas on topics such as stewardship of their investments, engaging with their asset managers, educating students and staff, and social impact investment.

The founding members of the network have seized an opportunity to use their endowments to further their missions and take action on global threats such as climate change and ecosystem breakdown as well as local issues including inequality and homelessness. This is often encouraged by students and other stakeholders who want universities to take a proactive approach to the management of their investments.

University of Cambridge Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen J Toope, said: “Joining the Responsible Investment Network - Universities is the next step forward in the University of Cambridge’s commitment to the global energy transition, and we look forward to working with RINU members on supporting the decarbonisation of the modern economy.”

The network offers access to research and advocacy opportunities relevant to universities’ core portfolios – but also support in exploring the social investment market.

Katie Fulford-Smith, Engagement Manager at Big Society Capital, commented: “We’re excited to be supporting the launch of this network. University endowments have the potential to create positive impact on society and the environment by making impact investments. These can also help universities to better align their financial assets with their values. We believe impact investments that don’t require profit maximisation or sacrifice financial returns present the greatest opportunities for universities. We’ve already invested alongside a number of UK universities and look forward to working with others, whether they’re expanding or just beginning to navigate the social impact investing market."

Dave Gorman, Director of Social Responsibility and Sustainability at the University of Edinburgh said: “Edinburgh was the first university in Europe to sign the UN Principles for Responsible Investment in 2013. Since then, responsible investment has become firmly integrated into not just our financial operations, but also our wider approach to social and civic responsibility: such as our commitment to transition out of fossil fuels investments by 2021; our £60m investment in sustainable and low carbon companies; our £1.5m investment in local social enterprises and our zero-tolerance stance on modern slavery. We look forward to sharing our expertise with other universities.”

The network will also work with universities to improve how they educate and consult with their students on how and where their endowment is invested. To achieve this, the project is working with the National Union of Students’ sustainability charity, SOS-UK.

Zamzam Ibrahim, President, Students’ Organising for Sustainability (SOS-UK), said: “Responsible investment is the sustainability issue that students know least about at their universities. We are really hopeful that this new network will start to change that, supporting universities to put their investments to use for the public good, and shedding light on how universities manage their money.”

John Ford, Treasurer, St Anne’s College Oxford said: “St Anne’s College has always been forward looking and outward facing. We are keen to work collaboratively with like-minded investors and to learn more about the difference that shareholder engagement can make. Being a member of RINU will be invaluable to our current investment review, which includes a consultation with both students and staff and a practical evaluation of the impact of responsible investment.”

Lily Tomson, ShareAction’s Head of Networks, said: “I am delighted by the range of universities in the founding group, and their enthusiasm to share ideas and act boldly. The national conversation about responsible investment within higher education has focused mainly on whether to divest from fossil fuels or not. It’s an important debate, and over half of UK universities have divested, but it’s not the only strategy at their disposal. RINU is all about working with both investment staff and university stakeholders, who understand the urgency of social and environmental threats, and who are looking together for a range of solutions.”

ShareAction is building on the success of the Charities Responsible Investment Network, a group of 19 charities working together to align their investments with their charitable goals.

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