Fossil Fuels Should Absolutely Be Funding Canadian Universities

Fossil Fuels Should Absolutely Be Funding Canadian Universities

In Canada, it’s no secret our universities are primarily funded by government and tuition but also find themselves the recipients of donations – sometimes one-off or long-term commitments – from private sector sources. It’s also no secret our post-secondary institutions play a critical role in preparing young Canadians for the world and that a university degree requires a lot of time, effort, and funding, whether on an individual or institutional level.

But what may be news for many of us is the growing importance of charitable donations from private sources in higher education.

According to reporting by University Affairs, more than $1.7 billion was given to Canadian post-secondary institutions from a wide variety of individuals, trusts, foundations, corporations, and other groups in 2021 [1]. This amounted to roughly $1,700 for each full-time university student. University Affairs’ source – a study of 54 Canadian universities, colleges and institutions performed by the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education – found that private donors account for a quarter of funds for research programs, capital projects, and student financial aid.

In short, private-sector funding at our post-secondary institutions is irreplaceable. Donations of all sorts – gifts, grants, property, equipment, art, or another means of money transfer or aid – play a key role in sustaining and enhancing academic communities on campuses across Canada.

Therefore, it is perplexing to hear anti-Canadian development activists call to end fossil fuel funding in our universities. These opponents proclaim our natural resource companies are influencing academic research on energy efficiency and climate mitigation in perverse ways… apparently by providing millions of dollars in grants, chairs and other investments.

The Pathways Alliance, for example, is one such group “guilty” of making significant investments in academic research. Consisting of Canada’s largest oil producers and accounting for more than 95 per cent of oil sands production, the consortium’s members – albeit competitors in public markets – share intellectual property to reduce environmental impacts. The group remains one of the few oil sectors globally to pledge net zero emissions by 2050.

Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) is a recipient of several investments from Pathways Alliance members, as well as other domestic fossil fuel producers. According to NSERC’s website:

“NSERC connects over 4,000 partners in industry, government and the not-for-profit sector with Canadian university and college researchers who bring world firsts in knowledge, specialized equipment, and young talent to R&D collaborative projects. Together, they make breakthroughs for Canada’s economy, society, and the environment.”

The above description should be self-explanatory.

Our universities are home to some of the brightest minds in Canada. Some professors and researchers at these institutions are in pursuit of research-intensive innovations to help further reduce energy sector emissions. If oil and natural gas companies like those in the Pathways Alliance are funding such academic studies, we’re not exactly sure why any self-proclaimed environmentalist would be against that.

Canadian energy companies are also home to some of our best talent who have the know-how, experience, and financial backing to develop the low-emission technologies of tomorrow.  Because let’s be real --- it won’t be anti-Canadian oil and gas activists funding/innovating our way to a lower emissions energy future. The only “solution” these opponents have is to shut down all Canadian fossil fuels in a dangerously short timeline, no matter the dire consequences.

This isn’t pragmatic, it isn’t balanced, and quite frankly, it’s just nonsense.

Today, the world still gets more than 80 per cent of its energy from fossil fuels. Despite trillions of dollars of investment into renewables over the past decade, the role of fossil fuels in the global energy mix has dropped just a few percentage points. Meanwhile, growing demand in developing market economies like China and India is expected to keep consumption levels elevated at record highs for many years to come.

If we want to make true climate action progress now, we must continue to build out renewables while looking for ways to manage emissions in our current oil and natural gas systems. Investments made by fossil fuel companies in our post-secondary institutions not only advance such initiatives and contribute significantly to Canada’s world-class sustainable energy production, but also underpin a healthy academic environment for students from coast to coast.

The call from anti-energy activists to end fossil fuel funding in our universities makes you wonder what good thing they will target next. Don’t be surprised if it’s the tens of millions of dollars given by our fossil fuel companies to initiatives like building the emergency department at St. Paul’s Hospital in British Columbia, the continued operation of STARS ambulance in Alberta, or education aimed to get kids interested in STEM fields in Newfoundland and Labrador.

It’s just that ridiculous.


1 -