Lancaster University urged to cut ties with UK arms trade

“Solidarity with striking staff, and solidarity with Yemen and Palestine!”

Arms trade

Ongoing resistance over the University of Lancaster’s connections with BAE Systems, the UK multinational arms, security and aerospace company that supplies arms to Yemen, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other regimes, was stepped up this week, when students took over a campus demanding that the institution relinquishes its relations with the arms company.

BAE Systems is one of the largest weapons manufacturers in the world. In 2021, Lancaster University and the University of Cumbria, which has a campus in Lancaster, announced they would be working closely with BAE Systems to develop a new campus in Barrow-in-Furness. Lancaster university has other connections to BAE Systems, including research collaborations and sponsorship for Engineering Summer Schools for secondary school children.

In April this year, the university signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the arms company designed to develop business innovation and sustainable technology research in Lancaster.

The campus occupation was organised by Demilitarise Lancaster, which calls for the university to cut ties with the arms trade. The group is also in solidarity with the University and College Union (UCU), which is currently involved in industrial action over the pay, working conditions and pensions of university staff.

Speaking of Lancaster University’s association with BAE Systems, one student occupier said:

“The university is clearly aware of how immoral and unjustifiable the arms trade is, which is why they have announced they are divesting from arms companies.

“To then be expanding their relationships with these same companies in spite of their divestment, is completely two-faced and hypocritical.

“The university must sever all ties, not just investment.”

Another activist commented: “We feel like we have no choice but to take this direct action, given the scale of the university’s complicity with war crimes.

“As students at the university, we have a responsibility to fight for an institution where staff and students are treated with dignity — and where our tuition fees are not used to uphold the oppressive system of violent, global imperialism.

“Solidarity with striking staff, and solidarity with Yemen and Palestine!”

This week’s protest is the latest activity in a long-running dispute over the university’s connections with the arms trade. In March 2021, staff at the university launched a petition aimed at highlighting the links between the institution and the arms industry.

Dr Emily Heath, one of the authors of the petition, said: “We are enthusiastic about increasing educational offerings in Barrow. The new Barrow campus could be a great opportunity for education and training aimed at decarbonising and diversifying the local economy along the lines of the Green New Deal. But instead, it looks geared towards supporting the dominant arms industry’s business and training needs.

“We believe that universities should help to build a more peaceful and sustainable world, and should refuse to endorse and work with companies that profit from inflicting death and misery on the world’s most vulnerable people.”

December 3 was a National Day of Action demanding an end to UK complicity in the war on Yemen, which has raged on for almost 8 years and has contributed to one of the world’s humanitarian crises. 

During the five years to 2020, BAE Systems sold £15bn worth of arms and services to the Saudi military. In January 2023, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), which works towards the abolition of the international arms trade, is taking the government back to court over unlawful sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia.

LFF reached out to Lancaster University for commentary on their relations with BAE Systems. A spokesperson told us:

“As an anchor institution, Lancaster University forms a key part of the local economy and works with a diverse range of partners and businesses, from Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) and local authorities, to international corporations.

 “Our work with BAE Systems underpins diverse activity, including research into sustainable technologies, and deepens our engagement with regional business, enhancing business growth and opportunity.

 “Open dialogue and debate is very important to us as a university, and as proponents of free speech we support the right for individuals to express their views.

 “We also support our academics’ freedom to identify and associate with legitimate organisations as part of their research activity.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

Image credit: Twitter screen grab

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