Oxbridge boat race protest
Image credit: Cambridge Zero Carbon (This image is of the 2018 boat race protest)

More than 50 students, representing Oxford Climate Justice Campaign and Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, today attended the annual Oxford-Cambridge boat race. Their aim was to conduct a protest against their universities’ investments in the fossil fuel industry.

However the protest never took place. Organisers allege that ‘aggression and intimidatory actions of police officers’ forced them to abandon the plans.


Student campaigners were searched by the police. A cloth banner reading “Oxbridge Come Clean” was seized, despite not being an item that could cause criminal damage. Campaigners allege the police justified their searches by calling on grounds of ‘preventing terrorism’.

The campaigners also claim police officers held a notebook reading “Cambridge Zero Carbon climate protest” while questioning students.

Oxbridge divestment campaigns

The attempted protest was led by Cambridge Zero Carbon Society and Oxford Climate Justice Campaign. Both of these are student-run groups campaigning for fossil fuel divestment. The boat race protest was intended as an escalation of their campaigns which have been running for four years at Cambridge University and seven at Oxford University.

Students at both universities have utilised a range of tactics, including occupations, hunger strikes, and mass rallies. The boat race protest was intended to replicate a similar action the two campaigns took last year.

Oxbridge rejects divestment

Evidence suggests there is widespread support at both universities from students, staff, and alumni. Multiple open letters from Cambridge and Oxford academics have expressed a keen desire for the universities to cut their ties to the fossil fuel industry. However both universities have thus far refused to end their investments in fossil fuels.

A statement from both Cambridge Zero Carbon and Oxford Climate Justice Society condemned their universities and the actions of police at the boat race:

As young people, we know that time is up for our planet, and time for irresponsible investments threatening our futures, and the lives of the world’s most vulnerable communities.

Oxford and Cambridge universities’ continued collusion with fossil fuel interests is untenable. It is a testament to the power of our movement that the authorities are willing to go to such lengths to repress a legal protest.

Yet their efforts will backfire. We will continue to demand urgent action on the climate crisis and full divestment from fossil fuels.

A wider movement

Oxbridge students aren’t alone in their campaigns. As a result of nearly a decade of student organising, 76 UK universities have now committed to divest from fossil fuels. This represents nearly half of all publicly funded universities in the UK.