The students’ union questions whether the £24,000 cost of the statue could have been better spent.
A £24,000 statue of Greta Thunberg installed at a university has sparked anger among students who have branded it a “vanity project”.
The University of Winchester believes it is the world’s first life-sized sculpture of the “inspirational” Swedish environmental activist.
But the students’ union said the funds could have been better spent.
The university said “no money was diverted” from student support or staffing for the project.
Winchester UCU president Megan Ball described Thunberg as a “fantastic role model to everyone, as someone who speaks loudly and proudly about important global issues” but said the union could not support the sculpture.
She said: “We’re in a Covid year, lots of students haven’t really had access to campus, lots of them are trying to study online and are in dire need of support.
“We are calling on the university to match the statue cost by committing £23,760 in additional funding to student support services across campus.
“We urge them to publicly face the critical issues which students are highlighting and provide a transparent breakdown of additional and existing financial support.”
The union also passed a motion describing the statue as a “vanity project”.
It was commissioned in 2019 and funded through money allocated to the construction of the £50m West Downs Centre development, where the piece was unveiled earlier.
The university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Joy Carter, said: “No money was diverted from student support or from staffing to finance the West Downs project. Indeed, the university has spent £5.2m this year on student support.”
In an email to students about the piece, the university added it hoped the statue would become a symbol of its “commitment to combat the climate and ecological emergency.”
“Greta is a young woman who, in spite of difficulties in her life, has become a world-leading environmental activist. As the university for sustainability and social justice, we are proud to honour this inspirational woman in this way,” Professor Carter added.
“We know that many find her a controversial figure. As a university we welcome debate and critical conversations.
“We hope that her statue will help to inspire our community, reminding us that no matter what life throws at us we can still change the world for the better. That is a message we want all our students and all young people to hear.”
It said it wanted to have the statue installed ahead of the UK hosting the UN’s climate change conference, COP26.
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