Green jobs must be protected: University of Melbourne staff address the Vice-Chancellor

2 June 2020

The University of Melbourne’s National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) Climate Justice Network has published an open letter to Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell demanding job security for energy and climate scientists as the economic toll of COVID-19 mounts in the tertiary education sector.

Last year, the University did not renew funding for the Climate and Energy College, which comprises an international team of early-career climate and energy researchers. According to the NTEU Climate Justice Network, the College has since relied on the federally-funded Energy Transition Hub to remain financially viable. The Hub was formed in 2017 to address the challenges of transitioning to a net-zero emissions economy, with the Turnbull government committing $20 million over five years.

However, the Morrison government recently flagged that it will cut off funding to the Hub in June, two years before the initiative is scheduled to finish—leaving both the Energy Transition Hub and the Climate and Energy College with no financial backing. The economic fallout of COVID-19 has only compounded the uncertainty surrounding their future.

“There has been no guaranteed support from the University for the Hub and College to continue,” the letter to the Vice-Chancellor states. “This means that the livelihoods of a large number of staff working on issues related to climate and energy are precarious.”

“A number of staff have already left the College, and there is no longer any administrative support.”

According to the letter, indications point to the Energy Transition Hub being abolished as a result of the funding vacuum.

“We demand that the future of climate and energy scientists be taken seriously by the University, with a commitment to no job losses in these areas,” the letter says.

“If the University is to embody climate justice leadership, green jobs must be protected.”

The letter also demands that the University stop accepting research funding from the fossil fuel industry by 2025, highlighting staff members’ concerns that an increased need for industry funding in the wake of the pandemic will deepen the University’s ties to fossil fuel companies.

“We know that the University already has significant ties to several major fossil fuel companies such as BHP,” the letter states. “These funding arrangements cannot simply end overnight, as there are currently staff whose livelihoods depend on this funding.”

“As such we are arguing for a thoughtful and just transition away from these ties to the industry.”

The NTEU Climate Justice Network also targets the University’s partnerships with fossil fuel companies outside of research funding, including its relationship with gas and oil giant ExxonMobil

Last month, Farrago reported that the School of Earth Sciences allows the company to advertise graduate positions and interview students on campus.

Head of the School of Earth Sciences David Phillips defended the relationship, saying, “It’s not that we condone anything that ExxonMobil does, or many other companies for that matter, it’s keeping the communication lines open.”

According to the open letter, “Staff within Earth Sciences have raised concerns about the transparency of this relationship, and the ethics of encouraging our alumni to obtain jobs in the fossil fuels industry.”

The letter cites the University’s silver sponsorship of last year’s International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) as another example of “the complicity of our institution, the University of Melbourne, in the climate crisis.”

“We demand that the University ends this cooperation with companies that are expanding the scale of the fossil fuel sector.”

The letter to the Vice-Chancellor concludes by calling for a “town hall style meeting” involving students and staff later this year.

“We need to mobilise the vast potential of our students and staff in creating a green future, through a democratisation of the University.”

Farrago has contacted the Vice-Chancellor for comment.

The open letter to Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell can be viewed in full on the Climate Justice Network – UoM Facebook page.


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