The Siren spoke to an activist from the ‘Disarm Swansea University’ campaign to ask them more about their latest petition:
What is the Disarm Swansea University Campaign about and how did you first become involved?
The campaign is the most recent chapter in a series of campaigns that begun around 10 years ago to highlight Swansea University’s connections to the arms trade, and to demand that the university instead invests its money ethically.
Before I came to Swansea University, I took part in campaigning against the world’s largest arms industry fair (DSEI) that takes place every two years in east London. This experience was a real crash course on activism. The most crucial thing I learnt then, that’s applicable to the Disarm Swansea University campaign, is that the most insidious face of the arms trade is not in fact the ‘small-time’ gun runners depicted in films, but instead large companies, commanding vast government subsidies and priority on official trade envoys.
What do you hope signing your petition will achieve?
Past experience has shown that Swansea University’s management is not impervious to criticism and demand for change. Students have taken a stand in the recent past on such issues as cuts to the Modern Foreign Languages department, and lack of resources allocated for promoting sustainability. Both these things have been fought hard on and won.
The outcome of a lot of people signing our petition will be a stronger mandate when we approach the university to challenge them on this issue. Our Vice Chancellor is far more likely to take notice if staff and students alike make a coordinated effort to raise this concern. To this end, a petition is the best way to start.
How many people need to have signed before any action can be taken?
We are being strategic and have created a vague timeline for the campaign. Based on the great response we have got so far, we are hoping to get to around 300 signatures in the upcoming weeks. At this point, we will be looking to start increasing our communication with the university, putting our case forward. We will be asking to meet with either a pro VC or a representative of the finance department to put our case forward to them, directly. At that point, the ball will be in their court, so to speak. In the People & Planet Green League released annually in the Guardian rating universities on environmental and ethical impact, Swansea University has never scored any points for ‘ethical investment’. The campaign will be looking to put more pressure on the university regarding this fact.
What would you say to those individuals who would argue that the links the University has with arms companies such as BAE Systems brings in vital funding and sustains research projects?
When the statistics are broken down, it’s beyond belief that the arms trade continues to operate in the UK. Here’s a quick break down of the figures:
- 0.2% of the UK workforce is connected to arms exports
- Arms and defence industry products constitute just 1.5% of total UK exports
- According to conservative estimates, the arms industry is subsidised in the UK to around £888m annually
Despite the above, 54% of UK Trade & Investment staff are committed by the government to the arms industry, and 27% UK government research expenditure is dedicated to the industry (Department for Business Innovation & Skills, Strategic Export Controls Country Annual Report 2009, July 2010)
What all this adds up to is the clear fact that the arms trade would not be economically viable if it was not for the extent to which we continue to subsidise it. The industry is also boosted by the amount of cheap labour provided to it by research undertaken by students. These are resources that are kept from other, perhaps more deserving industries, something partly acknowledged to in a statement by the President of General Dynamics UK in 2010:
“The skills that might be divested of a reducing defence industry do not just sit there waiting to come back. They will be mopped up by other industries that need such skills…You can think of the upsurge in nuclear and alternative energy as being two areas that would mop up those people almost immediately.”
Asides arguments based on economics, there are the moral arguments, which I would argue far out-weigh the needs for jobs. The UK Government’s 2010 Human Rights Annual Report identified 26 “countries of concern”. Yet, in that year the UK also approved arms export licenses to 16 countries that appeared on that list. Arms trade companies, such as BAE Systems, opportunistically lobby for export licenses when conflict seems likely, which is evident by the extent to which value of export licenses for arms to Bahrain alone rose during the Arab Spring from £6,078,484 to £16,381,935. In Bahrain and other countries that saw democratic protests during the Arab Spring, including Libya, evidence of use of equipment supplied by the UK on protesters is identifiable.
More information on the above statistics complete with citations can be viewed via
What proof do you have that tuition funds are being used in this way? Is this information free for anyone to access?
We have done research using in to the shares Swansea University holds, as well as value of research contracts. Swansea University currently hold a combined total of £97,472 worth of shares in BAE Systems and Rolls Royce, the two biggest UK companies involved in the arms trade. On top of this, Swansea University’s College of Engineering received contracts totalling £221,532 from Rolls Royce and GKN Aerospace Services. The full results of our Freedom of Information (FoI) request can be viewed and downloaded via the following link: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/swansea_university_and_the_arms
Swansea University also regularly publically make statements regarding their partnerships with companies such as BAE Systems (http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/90m-funding-confirmed-400m-swansea-2024458). The university also regularly advertise such corporate sponsorships around campus, especially in regards to ‘promoting’ the second campus, so keep your eyes peeled!
If you would like to help us take action on this issue, you can sign our petition: www.tinyurl.com/disarmswansea and keep updated on developments via our Facebook page via https://www.facebook.com/pages/Disarm-Swansea-University/414517378600849
By Zoe Alford