Students across the UK will stage a day of action today (24 February) aimed at “kicking the arms trade off campus”.
The last year has seen demonstrations, occupations and sit-ins over universities’ links to arms companies, as well as talks, debates and petitions. The arms trade has become an increasingly controversial issue in higher education.
Students are calling for “clean investment” policies to replace universities’ shares in the arms trade. They also want to see an end to arms companies’ role in funding courses and research, and the removal of arms dealers from careers fairs.
The protests are organised largely by autonomous student groups, with students focusing on the aspect of the arms trade they consider most relevant to their university. The Universities Network of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) is providing support and co-ordination.
The Student Christian Movement (SCM) has also endorsed the day of action.
“Students do not want to see their course fees invested in armaments, their departments' research sponsored by arms companies, or these companies being allowed to recruit the next generation of workers on their campuses,” said Sarah Reader, Co-ordinator of the CAAT Universities Network.
Recent years have seen a sharp rise in student activism against the arms trade, and a number of successful campaigns.
University College London (UCL) recently became the latest institution to sell its shares in arms companies. The group Disarm UCL, which brought together students and university staff, had been campaigning towards this goal for several years.
Universities including Oxford, Cardiff, Birmingham and York are under pressure to sell their arms shares following student campaigns.
Arms firms are also finding it hard to attend graduate recruitment fairs at universities due to well-organised protests. Some of these, while peaceful, have caused significant disruption. Recruitment by BAE Systems has been the target of protests at universities including Edinburgh, Leeds, York and Warwick.
There is now a particular fear that recent cuts to higher education funding will allow arms companies to increase their influence. A large number of courses, mostly in engineering but sometimes in science or management, receive funding from arms companies.
“In the current climate of growing privatisation and cuts to higher education, students are even more focused on their universities' priorities,” said Reader, “We think this year's day of action will be bigger than ever before”.