A life-size bronze statue of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg installed at a UK university has sparked a backlash among students and critics who argue the money could have been better spent.
The sculpture – priced at £ 24,000 (around $ 33,000) – was unveiled at the University of Winchester in southern England on Tuesday. The university, in a statement, said it was a symbol of its “continued commitment to sustainability and social justice.”
The Winchester University and College (UCU) branch criticized the high price of status during the coronavirus pandemic and described it as a “vanity project”.
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“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,” said Megan Ball, president of Winchester UCU, according to the BBC. “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.”
“We urge them to publicly address the critical issues that students highlight and provide a transparent breakdown of additional and existing financial support,” she continued.
Ball noted that the union could not support the sculpture, although Thunberg, 18, is a “fantastic role model for everyone, as someone who speaks loudly about important global issues.”
A tweet from the UCU branch of the University of Winchester added: “The university’s distinctive approach to commissioning works of art is to do so in meetings without minutes and / or avoid all committee review. It’s not the ideal approach when spending college money. “
The statue was commissioned in 2019 as part of the £ 50million development of the West Downs Center – the university’s new flagship learning and teaching building – where the piece was unveiled.
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University of Winchester Vice Chancellor Professor Joy Carter said no money had been diverted from “student support or staffing” to fund the project. She added that the university – which declared a climate and ecological emergency in 2019 – spent £ 5.2million this year on student support.
“The University’s artistic approach is to order or purchase unusual and striking pieces that embody our distinctiveness and values,” Carter said. “Greta is a young woman who, despite the difficulties in her life, has become a leading environmental activist in the world.”
Thunberg, born in 2003, occasionally clashed with former President Trump and quickly became an international figure due to her climate advocacy. She was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2019.
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“We know many find her a controversial figure,” Carter continued. “As a university, we welcome reasoned debate and critical conversation. We hope his statue will help inspire our community, reminding us that no matter what life throws at us, we can always change the world for the better.
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