A statue of climate activist Greta Thunberg provokes anger in the UK

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg protests with her placard reading “School strike for climate” as part of her Fridays for Future protest in front of the Swedish Parliament Riksdagen in Stockholm on October 9, 2020.

LONDON — A statue of the climate activist Greta Thunberg that has been installed at a British university has provoked anger from students who labeled it a waste of money.

Students at the University of Winchester, in the south of England, expressed their dismay at the cost of the statue, which was almost £24,000 ($33,000) saying it was a “vanity project.”

The university defended the bronze statue, which it believes is the first life-size model of the Swedish environmental campaigner, saying Thunberg is an “inspirational” figure and “a symbol of the University’s ongoing commitment to sustainability and social justice.”

But the university’s students’ union said ahead of the unveiling of the statue on Tuesday that while it admired ”Greta for her drive and determination … we cannot condone the statue unveiling.”  

It said the university “must not ignore their current students in focusing on new student recruitment, the sustainability agenda, and publicity” and asked it to match the statue cost by committing £23,760 in additional funding to student support services across campus.

Last week, the students’ union had issued a statement in which it argued that Thunberg was “a fantastic role model to everyone, as someone who speaks loudly and proudly about important global issues and defies odds that others put upon her.”

However, it said that the last year dominated by the coronavirus crisis had prompted staff redundancies, library cuts and the limitation of provisions.

“(Students) are being charged full tuition fees for an academic year that is anything but normal. There is a crippling mental health crisis amongst students, and wellbeing services are crying out for additional support. In our view, the unveiling of this statue next week shows that these issues are not their priorities.”

The Winchester University and College Union described the sculpture as a “vanity project” on social media last week.

The University of Winchester said the sculpture had been commissioned in 2019 and was timed to be installed when it opened a new building, the West Downs Centre, on its campus.

“We are aware of some concerns raised about the financing of the statue. The statue was commissioned in 2019 as part of the West Downs project from funds which could only be spent on that building. No money was diverted from student support or from staffing to finance the West Downs project,” it said in a statement Tuesday.

The university said it had spent £5.2 million this year on student support, had processed hardship funding and established a new IT access fund for students to support learning during the pandemic.