Arms cash ignites fury

July 21, 2000

Cambridge University is facing mass student protests over a gift of at least Pounds 750,000 from arms manufacturer GKN. The move has been condemned by human rights campaigners, and Cambridge's students have pledged "direct action".

The university's governing general board has urged dons to accept plans for a GKN professorship of manufacturing engineering, funded by the company for at least ten years at Pounds 75,000 a year. "The faculty board of engineering has warmly welcomed this demonstration of encouragement and support from GKN," said the general board, recommending acceptance.

The student union council has voted overwhelmingly to "support and organise non-violent direct action in protest against the proposed GKN-funded chair".

At a Senate House discussion of the proposals last week, student union officer Mary Webber attacked the university for discussing the issue outside term time, when students' anger could not be fully reflected.

"The university should not underestimate the possibility for significant protest among the student body next term," she said. "GKN is a company of very dubious moral standing and one that the university should not be legitimising. Shame on them, and shame on this university."

Staff have also expressed concerns that a member of GKN's board is to sit on the appointment panel for the new chair.

The Campaign against the Arms Trade said that GKN had supplied water cannon and anti-submarine helicopters to Indonesia, where human rights are routinely abused, and is bidding to sell helicopters to Turkey, another country criticised for human rights abuses by Amnesty International.

GKN used to own and still retains a 30 per cent stake in Alvis plc, which supplied vehicles used to suppress demonstrations in Indonesia. A quarter of its business is in aerospace, including military helicopter manufacturer Westland.

The university said that the GKN professorship "is vital to ongoing development of research and teaching in manufacturing technology in the department (of engineering)".

It said that the GKN professor, to be based in the Institute for Manufacturing, would "develop further the already extensive links between the institute and manufacturing industry both in the UK and overseas".

Mike Gregory, head of the institute, said: "It may be helpful to note that the Church of England is a significant investor in the company." He added:

"It regularly reviews its investments on ethical grounds and is satisfied with the company's position."

A GKN spokesman said that only 25 per cent of its $4.6 billion business was in aerospace, and most aerospace business was with the UK Ministry of Defence. He said that the company rigidly adheres to the government's guidelines on exporting arms.

Dealings with Indonesia, he said, were all historical, and there are no outstanding contracts with the regime. He said the company was repositioning itself away from the defence business.

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