The installation of a statue of climate change activist Greta Thunberg at a UK university on Tuesday sparked a backlash among staff and students who said the money could have been better spent.
The statue of the Swedish activist was installed at the University of Winchester in southern England to reflect his “commitment to sustainability and social justice,” the university said in a statement.
However, the Winchester branch of the University and College Union (UCU), which represents academic staff, dismissed the monument as a ‘vanity project’ and criticized its cost of £ 24,000 (28,000 euros, $ 33,000) at amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement, UCU said funding for the statue should have been used to avoid service cuts and redundancies and called the decision-making regarding its installation “opaque.”
Winchester Students’ Union president Megan Ball told the BBC the students were not questioning Thunberg’s contribution as a prominent activist, but rather wanted the university to address “critical issues” faced by students.
“We are in a Covid year, a lot of students haven’t really had access to campus, a lot of them are trying to study online and are in urgent need of support,” Ball said.
“We are calling on the university to match the cost of the statue by committing £ 23,760 in additional funding for student support services on campus,” she added.
The university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Joy Carter, stressed that no funding had been diverted from students or staff to pay for the statue.
“The university’s artistic approach is to commission or purchase unusual and striking pieces that embody our distinctiveness and values,” said Carter, praising Thunberg as “a leading environmental activist”.
“We know many find her a controversial figure,” she said, adding that the university hosted “reasoned debate and critical conversations.”
Thunberg, who started campaigning against climate change in 2018 at the age of 15, won Amnesty International’s first prize for human rights and the Swedish Right Livelihood Prize, often touted as an alternative Nobel Prize.
In 2019, she was named Person of the Year by Time magazine.
© 2021 AFP