The University has come under fire from both student and national campaign groups, after it has been revealed they received over £4 million from arms companies, to fund research since 2008.
In data uncovered by Nouse, four major arms companies – BAE Systems, MBDA, Rolls Royce and QinetiQ – were named as substantial research funders across three departments at the University.
BAE systems, the world’s third largest trader in arms and the subject of several corruption investigations globally, provided £1.24 million in research support this year alone.
Speaking to Nouse, Abi Haque, a national spokesperson for the ‘Campaign Against Arms Trade’ (CAAT) called the receiving of arms investment, the “accepting of blood money.”
She continued: “To accept large sums of money from arms companies like BAE Systems, the University is associating itself, and therefore also its students, with the grave human rights abuses like those seen recently in the Arab Springs where BAE’s armoured vehicles were sent to suppress peaceful protests in Bahrain.”
The figures show that between 2008 and 2010, BAE Systems has provided the Computer Science department with £2,890,336, and the Electronics Department with £234,691, towards projects such as those titled “Wireless Aircraft.”
“These arms companies are built, if not entirely, on the profits of destruction, corruption and war”
Campaign Against Arms Trade activist
Professor John Robinson, Head of the Electronics Department, described it as a projects “to understand the behaviour of wireless systems within vehicular environments so that they might be used more effectively.”
“BAE directly and additionally funded the manufacture of some wireless systems to be tested in a real aircraft, and contributed towards attendance at meetings to discuss the technology.”
Similarly, Rolls Royce, the second largest engine maker for military aircraft and tester of Nuclear reactors for submarines, has given the Computer Science department £571,203.36 for “submarine” research.
This has raised concern from arms protest groups that these University projects are directly related to the arms trade and manufacture of weapons.
BAE systems is Britain’s only manufacturer of warplanes and submarines, and is a major producer of tanks, guns, mortars and ammunition. Since 2003, it has faced a series of ongoing allegations of corruption and bribery, and late last year admitted guilt, paying out £300m over a corrupt arms deal. They are known suppliers of arms to Saudi Arabia, as well as the Israel Defence forces.
Arms Company Profiles
The world’s largest arms producer. Their 2010 profits exceeded £22 billion
Products include nuclear submarines, tanks and armoured cars, guns, ammunitions and fighter aircraft
The company has been the subject of several global investigations over allegations of bribery, corruption and unethical practice, particularly in Saudi Arabia
Last year, they were found guilty of fraud and made to pay £268 million in criminal fines
MBDA is a world leader in missile and missile system development- works with over 90 armed forces worldwide
Develop air-to-air missiles, such the meteor; surface-to-air missiles, such as Mistral and anti-ship missiles, such as Exocet
Clouded in controversy after they signed an £147 million contract for anti-tank missiles, and £112 million communication system contract with Colonel Gaddafi and the Libyan Government in 2007
23rd largest defence provider in the world, mainly developing military aircraft engines
Rolls Royce Marine Power Operations tests nuclear reactors for Royal Naval submarines and powers all the UK’s nuclear submarines
Makes engines for warplanes, ships and submarines that are sold to 109 countries around the world. A famous example is the Hawk jet
QinetiQ is defence and security technology company. It develops and tests new weapons and ‘future concepts’ in defence technology including ballistic missile defence
80 per cent of QinetiQ sales are military and the MoD is its largest customer
Also develops surveillance and security technologies, weapons nanotechnology and ‘energetic materials’ (i.e. explosives)
Haque spoke on CAAT’s own experience of the company: “Having just returned from BAE Systems annual general meeting it is clear from the statements made by the Chairman Dick Olver, that the company is not interested in commenting on arming regimes that have been found to be lacking in human rights. There was also a refusal to apologise or express any remorse for the innocent civilians so often killed by products made by the company or for their appalling record on ethics and corruption.”
Alexandra Peck, a member of the York branch of CAAT, voiced similar concerns over York’s association with BAE Systems whose international sales “are steeped in scandal.”
“These companies are built, if not entirely, on the profits of corruption, destruction and war,” she added.
“British arms manufacturers have put weapons in the hands of the Middle-Eastern dictators and arm regimes all over the world known to commit human rights violations. The University of York should consider these factors not just financial ones when deciding the extent of its associations with these firms.”
However, Professor John McDermid, Head of the Computer Science, defended his department’s influx of arms funding, calling it “ethically justified.”
He said: “The work the Department does for BAE Systems and QinetiQ is largely if not entirely concerned with improving safety, e.g. developing techniques to seek to prevent aircraft accidents such as the loss of the Nimrod. Indeed we are referred to in the Haddon-Cave report on the accident.”
As well as BAE Systems and Rolls Royce, the figures shows considerable funding research from QinetiQ, an international defence technology company, and MBDA, a missile developer that produces both surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles, as well as missile systems.
Since 2008, QintetiQ has provided £237,009 for research, while MBDA has given £22,238.
MBDA was recently embroiled in scandal, after it was revealed they sold £147 million worth of anti-tank missiles, and a £112 million related communications system contract to Colonel Gaddafi and the Libyan government in 2007. They are also the main deployer of weapons to Afghanistan.
However, both John Robinson and Richard Taylor, Heads of the Electronics and Chemistry, respectively, stressed their departments had a “rigorous” ethics procedure in line with the University ethics procedures, and that each has a member of staff on the Physical Sciences Ethics Committee, to fully evaluate the ethical implications of each funding source.
Chris Venables, another CAAT activist at York, spoke to Nouse on the complexity of the issue: “Companies involved in the arms trade have for a long time invested substantially in Higher Education. Whilst understanding the need for private sector involvement in STEM subjects, we should not accept funding blindly, pushing aside morality for our own personal gain.”
Accusing the arms trade of being “the most corrupt and damaging industries that operates in the world today”, he called on the University to “recognise the link” created by accepting such funding.
Venables continued “Over the last 20 years there have been countless examples of defence companies selling weapons to countries that have appalling human rights records as well as numerous instances of bribery and corruption. These are the same companies who today invest millions of pounds at the University of York.”
Tim Ngwena, YUSU President, spoke of his “lack of surprise” over the findings.
He said: “the issue here is the ethical conflict they cause. You have to be careful with research funding and the tracks you leave. Nearly all research funding may come from countries or companies with either no ethical policy or share in a stake of a company that transports arms to a country or regime.”
This information follows on from a previous controversy over the University’s own investment in the arms trade, which led to the passing of a University ethical investment policy in 2009.
It states that “the University will not knowingly invest in companies whose activities include practices which directly pose a risk of serious harm to individuals or groups, or whose activities are inconsistent with the mission and values of the University.”
Arms trade and University of York: A retrospective
The University’s relationship to the arms trade has always been a somewhat murky business. Since Nouse revealed in 2005 that York held almost 150,000 shares in arms company BAE Systems, the ethical implications of such a monetary involvement has been a point of controversy between student campaigners and the University administration. In 2008, York was listed as the sixth largest University investor in the arms trade, with shares in both BAE systems and Rolls totalling over £1 million.
After mass student protest, an ethical investment policy was finally passed in 2009. Nonetheless, this policy has not prevented the same arms companies considered “unethical”, investing in York research themselves, meaning that University involvement in arms trade is as solid as ever. With the University Super Annuation Scheme also reliant on arms investment, it seems the campaign against York’s dependence on arms and defence companies is far from over.
However, this policy does not apply to companies themselves investing in the University, or University research. The ethical guidelines and code of practice for research funding is based solely around the criteria of potential disrepute for the department, and University, and whether the research results will be used by the funder to “enhance unethical practices”.
Student groups say that these are not sufficient to prevent unethical funding, and allow too much “room for manoeuvre.”
The ethical funding issue has also raised further questions over the implications of accepting research finance from oil and energy companies, such as Shell Global solutions; a key source of York research finance. Shell have faced ongoing criticism for their mass leaking of oil, which has led to the destruction of natural habit and local livelihoods in the Niger Delta. The company is currently the subject of a million dollar lawsuit due to these “devastating” oil leaks for which they are being held culpable.
However, despite these ongoing ethical allegations, the data uncovered by Nouse showed that Shell Global Solutions have given £107,601 in research funding for the Chemistry department alone, since 2008.
York Students Against Cuts have spoken out against findings, and their fears over the adverse affect education cuts will have on financial support from the arms trade.
“We fear that cuts to higher education funding will lead to greater dependence on private funding from corporations and an increased emphasis on meeting business needs over the development of knowledge and learning” said a York student spokesperson.
“Arms manufacturers and corporations should not be afforded the power to set the parameters of our education.”
Graphic: Jonathan Frost