Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), a post-graduate course provider at the University of Warwick, has signed a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ with BAE Systems, extending the Research & Development programmes they currently run for each company.
The development, which has been described as “significant” by University sources, will see the expansion of the post-graduate engineering course at WMG, with the opportunity for students to engage in technologies such as nanotechnology and ‘cyber security’. It could also see students on the course recruited by BAE Systems.
However this “renewal of wedding vows”, as Weapons Out of Warwick member Chris Rossdale described it, has been denounced by student groups, who believe the university is being horrifically negligent” in furthering its relationship with the arms manufacturer.
WMG chairman, Professor Lord Bhattacharya, said “We are delighted to be able to more strongly engage with BAE SYSTEMS, develop a better understanding of their needs and collaborate in areas of mutual benefit.” From BAE Systems, Cliff Robson said, “Working with industrially-aligned universities is important to help maintain and develop our capabilities and our people in particular. Consequently we are looking forward to developing this relationship with WMG.”
The Memorandum of Understanding is just the latest progression in a partnership which is now in its fifteenth year. The last deal between WMG and BAE is alleged to have created 2300 educational opportunities and retained 4000 jobs. The extent of this one cannot be underestimated; BAE Systems are the world’s second biggest defense manufacturer, with 2010 sales totaling £22.4 billion. It is also the biggest private manufacturer operating within the UK.
None of this impressed Mr Rossdale, though, when he spoke to the Boar. “BAE [Systems] is a classic example of the anti-ethical processes in the arms industry.” He said, “It is very nefarious has a well-trodden record of selling to the worst and most oppressive world regimes. It sucks up the talent pool of engineers , with Warwick students providing the managers.”
Mr Rossdale also attacked the idea that such partnerships were integral to improving the health of the UK economy. “The arms trade has a devastating impact on his jobs”, he said, “It is capital intensive and doesn’t create as many jobs as other industries. Statistics from the US show that for each billion [dollars] spent on arms just 8,555 jobs were created in the defense compared to 17,687 in education and 19,795 in mass transit.” He also had a message for the university. “The skills aren’t that distinct between arms development and green technology… training our people to create death is not worth it.”
BAE Systems’s record as a weapons and defense manufacturer is littered with controversy. Last year the company was found by the FBI to have been involved in a “conspiracy to defraud the United States” and ordered to pay a $400 million fine, the largest in corporate history. The company has also been linked with the resignations of former UK cabinet ministers Jonathan Aitken and Peter Mandelson over the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. It has also sold weapons and warplanes to other regimes with proven records of using acquired weapons against their own
In response to reservations about BAE Systems links with Warwick University and WMG, Head of Communications Peter Dunn said, “We have 22,000 students. Some of those students with have various and differing negative perceptions about a range of different companies. Many other students will have positive perceptions and welcome a chance to engage with a leading technology company such as BAE.”
Student reaction was mixed. Lloyd Danher, a second year Mechanical Engineering student, said closer contacts with big arms companies were undoubtedly beneficial for students. “I’ve been to careers fairs and you’re never sure if these companies are looking at you. [BAE Systems] being here makes you think they are interested in you – it’s definitely an advantage for us.”
Fellow second-year Engineering student Lauren Rutter had a different view, though. “I would prefer to work for the National Grid, which is based just down the road. The University has no links with them. We should try to get local companies in.”
A third year PHD student from France, who wished not to be named, was very vociferous in his position. “It is a sugar coating on a chocolate cake”, he said, “There is a lot of misinformation in the defense industry…they are very much into this ‘Deep Packet Inspection’ now at BAE Systems. It is where they analyze the data on people’s hard-drives – it’s basically a spying installation…. That’s what they mean by ‘cyber security’. I lobby a lot against them.”
The Students’ Union did not wish to comment on the matter, but remains committed to supporting student campaigns to remove the arms trade from the student sphere. No members of the People and Planet Society Executive Board, who run the ‘Weapons Out of Warwick” protest group leading the action against BAE Systems, were available for comment.
After publication, Sean Ruston of Warwick Students’ Union has confirmed that Warwick SU have a strong policy, as passed by Union Council, on supporting campaigns against the arms trade. Sean Ruston said “We are dismayed that the University has chosen to further associate itself with BAE systems, a company that has been accused of corruption and bribery. We at Warwick SU will continue to support students’ campaigns or protests against BAE or other arms companies, in line with union policy.”