Scottish universities criticised over investing millions in arms companies

BAE Systems is one of the companies who received investments

By Émer O’Toole, News Editor

Strathclyde is one of four Scottish universities to have come under fire after a total of nearly £3 million was invested by the universities in companies linked to the arms trade.

Edinburgh, Glasgow and Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen were also involved in the investigation, which was revealed in a freedom of information request by student body NUS Scotland.

The NUS claims that Strathclyde invested 10% out of its overall endowment of £27,040,000 into fossil fuel companies and 3% into arms.

Glasgow University was also criticised for investing 5% out of its £43,327,918 endowment into fossil fuel extraction, and 3% into the arms industry.

The largest total was the £1.3 million invested by Glasgow University in companies including BAE Systems, Europe’s largest arms firm.

The freedom of information request also revealed a sector-wide £15 million investment in fossil fuel companies and £14 million in businesses involved in the production and sale of alcohol.

Gary Paterson, president of Strathclyde, described the findings as “concerning” and said investment should be focused on “being a force for good, not destruction.”

“This isn’t about defence needs which are already covered by the state, this is about arms companies raising money so they can build additional weapons which are then sent to regimes around the world which use them to perpetuate human rights abuses and destruction.”

“A very pressing reminder, which perhaps might seem a world away but is linked to us all through the decisions of our nation, is the ongoing situation in Yemen where arms companies with the backing of our government are arming the Yemenis President who is killing the pro-democracy revolution after he made himself President for life.”

“The UK, and our universities which are publicly-funded for the good of society, should have no place in arming hostile and abusive regimes the world over. The only way these dictators can stay in power is with our support.”

“This also isn’t about education, it’s about an external investment portfolio focused on investments in arms companies in the pursuit of profit.”

Kirsty Haigh, vice-president of communities for NUS Scotland, also criticised the investment, saying that universities “should be working to benefit not just their campuses, but wider society as well” and “we should expect more from them.”

“Burning fossil fuels is causing disastrous climate change, and arms companies profit from conflict and human rights abuses.”

“Our universities – which are at the forefront of world leading research, innovation and social progress – should know this better than anyone.”

Mary Senior, Scotland official for the UCU lecturers’ union, noted that universities receive over £1 billion of public money annually.

She said: “They need to set the standard for ethical investments and should be leading the way in divesting away from questionable sectors or industries.”

However, according to a spokeswoman for Universities Scotland- which represents university principals- the oil and gas, alcohol and defence industries all have an important presence in Scotland with a significant export contribution to the country’s economy.

“Scottish universities have been at the forefront of climate change and health research, and have had a major focus on international development, for a number of decades and are continuing with this important work.

“The output of this work is playing a vital role in the global search for solutions to environmental problems as well as addressing health and societal issues at home.”

The debate comes after Glasgow University became the first institution in Europe to divest from fossil fuels in October last year, following a year-long campaign from students and green campaigners.

Several other UK institutions have come under fire for holding shares in arms companies, including nine universities in London that have a combined investment of £7.4 million in the industry and the Church of England.



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