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Senior bombing rooms: arms companies funding British universities

TOM SYKES examines the ever-expanding military-industrial-academic complex

SINCE the murders of George Floyd and Sarah Everard, British universities have been keen to signal their support for equality, diversity and inclusivity (EDI). 

Slammed by 300 academics and students in an open letter last year to Gavin Williamson as “tokenistic,” such woke posturing is also hypocritical given higher education’s growing financial relationships with arms manufacturers such as BAE Systems, Boeing, Airbus and Qinetiq, which directly enable regimes across the world to persecute women and children, and ethnic, religious and sexual minorities. 

As scientific research cash from the EU dries up post-Brexit and the government pledges to halve its funding for HE arts subjects, universities will court anyone who can grease their palms — and ethics seldom comes into the equation.

Over the course of the Saudi war on Yemen, which has killed 130,000 people (25 per cent of whom are children) and disproportionately damaged communities such as the dark-skinned, racially oppressed Muhammasheen caste, BAE Systems has sold £15 billion worth of arms to Riyadh (also not known for its kindness to women and LGBT+ people inside its own borders). 

The company also helped build F-35 fighter planes used by Israel to bomb the beleaguered Gazans recently. By BAE’s own estimates, it now invests £10-15 million in UK universities yearly.

Aside from bankrolling PhD bursaries and MSc programmes at UCL, BAE is currently working with other elite Russell Group universities, including Birmingham and Manchester, to “ensure its customers can maintain a military advantage over their potential adversaries in the future,” according to a spokesperson. 

Since 2013, BAE has poured £986,603 into research at the University of Portsmouth, including a £30,000 grant for a project aimed, ironically, at “understanding the moral component of conflict” run by academics in the fields of ethics (!) and international relations. 

This illustrates how the weapons sector is widening its sights to encompass not only the sciences but the arts and humanities.

The military-industrial-academic complex is a two-way street, with universities also investing in arms. 

Glasgow University currently holds £3m in BAE, Boeing (maker of Apache helicopters for such triumphs as the Iraq and Afghan wars) and Airbus (favoured customers: Saudi Arabia and US Customs and Border Protection). 

“The university has publicly proclaimed that ‘#BlackLivesMatter’,” writes local activist David Bloomfield, “but it has refused to accept that the bombs it profits from have been used to kill people around the world.” 

Sadly, the same cognitive dissonance has infected dozens of other British universities.  


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