Kicking the arms traders off campus

IssueFebruary 2006
Feature by Tim Street, Jo Wittlams

In October 2005, the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) relaunched its University Clean Investment campaign with the revelation that nearly half of all UK universities invest in the arms trade.

Using the newly introduced Freedom of Information Act, we discovered that these 67 universities held shares in one or more of the largest six UK-based arms exporting PLCs. The trade in weapons fuels conflict, undermines development and, as a whole, receives #890 million each year from the UK government.

Aiming to secure divestment from this unjustifiable business, our campaign has encouraged students and staff to confront financial decision makers at their universities and highlight the outrageous hypocrisy of international and progressive institutions profiting from death.

Swift action

The campaign's first breakthrough came just one week after its launch. The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), part of the University of London, sold all its “defence” stocks after teaching union members were alerted to CAAT's research by an article in London Student. The swift action taken by the Finance Director, Andrew Keeble, proved that divestment is legally possible and financially viable.

SOAS is a truly international institution, maintaining extensive links with universities across Africa and Asia. Roughly one in four of its students are from overseas, with 110 countries represented. Its decision to divest has proved to be a morale boost for student activists across the country, inspired by its radical outlook. It is our belief that similar victories can be achieved in universities both at home and abroad where students and staff unite in their desire to oppose the arms trade's influence on education. Three months on and there are activists campaigning against arms investments in 23 universities, from Bristol to Durham, Aberystwyth to Essex. Students are busy letter writing, petitioning, meeting with university finance directors and staging die-ins on campus.

Within the last month both York and Lancaster Student Unions have adopted motions to mandate university wide campaigns on ethical investments that explicitly exclude the arms trade. More universities are due to follow, ensuring that the issue of arms trade investment won't disappear until finance directors take account of the impact their decisions have on the wider world.

Get involved

Following the fantastic response from students and university employees across the country, we have expanded the campaign, and developed a Universities Network, to better encompass related issues; the funding relationships between UK-based arms companies and universities in the Science, Engineering and Technology fields are of particular concern.

If you are a student, academic, or work at a UK university and would like to get involved in this, or any other aspect of our Universities Network, please get in touch via email with or see our website