Glasgow University building

How Glasgow University is working with the arms industry

Image of Glasgow University
Photo from Flickr.

In this guest post, David Bloomfield and Claire Dobson from the Glasgow University Arms Divestment Coalition (GUADC)  examine the links between Glasgow University and the arms trade. Unfortunately this is happening in universities across the UK.

As Black Lives Matter protests all over the world draw attention to the systemic racism inherent in so many of our institutions, we have investigated the extent of Glasgow University’s ties to the arms trade and other industries that profit from globalised violence.

Revelations published in the Glasgow Guardian in 2019 had previously exposed how the university was profiting from over £3 million of investments in the arms trade — resulting in student activists GUADC applying pressure to the university directly through a series of protests.

However, Glasgow’s investment portfolio only represents the surface of the university’s long-running relationship with arms companies.

Through the investigation of grant documents, we discovered that the university has enjoyed millions of pounds worth of direct funding from huge arms dealers like Airbus, BAE Systems and Leonardo. Several grants explicitly identify the value of the university’s research to the ‘Aerospace, Defence and Marine’ sectors.

As well as its plans for future involvement with arms companies and the university’s significant history of developing military technology, its new technological development focus may be some of the most alarming to date. The grants reveal that the university is receiving significant funding to develop quantum technology, recognised within arms industry promotional materials as capable of delivering ‘Unprecedented warfighting capability’.

Arms industry materials boast of the capacity of quantum technology to help unmanned drones drop bombs more accurately, children across the world remain terrified of the clear blue skies that threaten another lethal drone strike. The University’s work, undeniably shaped by the funding and close working relationships it enjoys with companies that build and sell these drones, could be developing technologies that will lead to even greater profits for arms companies.

While some of these technologies could have a clear benefit to their development of medical equipment, it is impossible to discount the impact that significant investment by massive arms companies has on the direction of the research and, ultimately, how it will be used.

The largest such grant we have seen is for £21m and specifically cites the University’s collaboration with QuantIC, the UK’s centre for quantum imaging. In the grant documentation, QuantIC promises to work on ‘the ability to see directly inside the human body [and] the ability to see through fog and smoke’, both of which have obvious surveillance and military implications.

The University’s current work with QuantIC could help to increase the lethal capabilities of drones and other bombers, already widely used against civilian populations around the world. Currently, it is estimated that civilians make up around 90–95% of those killed by drone strikes.

This month the University’s Twitter account expressed its solidarity with anti-racist campaigners. However, it cannot claim that it condemns ‘all forms of racism and discrimination’ when technology it is helping to develop will result in more bombs being dropped on largely Black communities across the world.

While the largest grant claims that ‘QuantIC will enable UK industry to lead the global imaging revolution’, it does not specify who exactly will be benefiting from this ‘revolution’. With companies like BAE, Airbus and Thales contributing so much to the research carried out by universities like Glasgow, it seems likely that those benefiting will be arms company shareholders.

The University of Glasgow must end its collaboration with the arms trade or it is likely that it will, in part, be responsible for thousands of men, women and children fearing cloudy days as much as they do blue skies.

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