Setting our own agenda

It comes as no surprise that, excluding Oxbridge, York is now the university with the second highest level of investment in the arms trade in the UK. Proudly rising up the league tables from 6th highest in 2006 to today’s lofty second place, these increased shareholdings are irresponsible, and show a complete disregard for students’ objections to the issue. It’s a subject that has been repeatedly 9rearing its ugly head over the past few years, and whilst other universities have responded to student pressure and reduced or removed their investments accordingly, York seems more than content to play the bad guy. 

I know what you’re thinking. It’s all too easy to portray York as the “Mr.Burns” of ethical investment, completely overlooking the economic consequences of withdrawing funding from these companies. Indeed, it seems passively accepted by the majority across campus that the university is “doing it for a reason”, and that investment in these companies is “probably unavoidable”.

So let’s take a look at the logistics. Over the past two years, SOAS, UCL and Bangor University have all withdrawn investment in ethically questionable companies with little or no economic difficulty. Following their lead, both Manchester and St. Andrews are involved in negotiations following student action to create an ethical investment policy in conjunction with their universities. They are aiming to rule out completely or at least limit their involvement in companies linked to tobacco, arms, or those lacking environmental credentials. 

Indeed, research by the New Statesman in 2007 indicates that funds which preclude arms company shares are amongst the most profitable – in the past decade the Church of England’s ethically managed fund came second in a survey of 1,000, topping £4.3 billion. In addition to this, companies such as the Ethical Investment Research Service claim to be able to match any stocks held in unethical companies with those from other companies of equivalent value.

So why, then, do we find York trailing behind all these other universities, who ruled out the possibility of this kind of controversial investment as early as 2004? The answer is that our student voice simply isn’t loud enough. Whilst there remains a small yet fierce protestation group, the issue is clearly not at the forefront of our concerns. Indeed, whilst Ladsoc and Teasoc thrive, York University students seem to shrink away from the possibility of standing for anything more serious than trebles for singles and the next Club D. Where are the bands of unshaven, crusty looking maniacs, waving dangerously pointy looking “Make love not war” banners and generally causing a bit of a ruckus? 

I’m not expecting a huge influx of tie-dye into campus fashion any time soon, but what’s happened to York students’ enthusiasm, and why aren’t we protesting in a way which forces the university to listen? Is it that our generation are simply not aware of what’s going on outside, preferring Scrubs and Sex in the City to anything vaguely political? That’s a simplistic view that the elder generation are often keen to take, yet other students are evidently aware and taking a more drastic stand, as in the case of UCL’s ‘Disarm UCL’ campaign.

York students have been consistently ignoring this issue since 2004, and with shares in BAE and Rolls Royce approaching £1,000,000, there’s never been a better time to start paying attention. The disinterest and apathy from York students is frankly shocking – we seem to be too lazy and careless to force the university to divest, and we accept whichever ethical decisions they choose to make, however questionable.


  1. Why take Oxbridge out of the equation? It just completely skews the facts…


  2. How have York students been ignoring this issue for years?

    Two years ago students staged a ‘die in’ in Heslington Hall and protests all over campus which led to negotiations with the registrar and a policy being put forward to the senior management.

    More so, one of the two motions put to NUS Conference last year was regarding ethical investment! (The first motions submitted by York students for about ten years!)


  3. Perhaps not all of us have a problem with the arms trade. Some of us believe that, so long as laws are in place to ban the sale of weapons to aid enemies of the state, the arms trade is not only a perfectly legitimate trade, but a moral one as well.
    I would rather York invested in a trade which allows our country to arm itself against threats. I believe that it is vital to the protection of our rights that we be protected from foreign threats, and as such, am glad that York funds companies which mean that the men and women fighting to protect your right to write this column are able to do so to the best of their ability.


  4. 26 Nov ’08 at 1:40 am

    Henry and Charles

    Rolls Royce make lots of other products apart from weapons. Infact they make engines for commercial planes too, as well as obviously the luxury cars. RR have been at the vanguard of engine design and construction for years.

    BAE is harder to defend with al yamamah supplying an oppressive regime with military might, but the company themselves again are leaders in aerospace engineering. Pioneering companies need support of the institutions which will give those firms a new generation of qualified engineers. Defense systems are not just about blowing up innocent people. A brief look at BAEs graduate programme shows there is more to the company than selling guns to the middle east.