Arms gift fuels ethics debate

August 18, 2000

Cambridge University has been accused of suppressing debate over its controversial plan to accept a Pounds 750,000 gift from arms manufacturer GKN.

Cambridge's council put forward a formal proposal to accept the money last week, just two days before the deadline for policy decisions during Cambridge's "long vacation" term.

A notice of the policy, called "a grace", in the most recent issue of the Cambridge Reporter said: "This grace, unless it is withdrawn or a ballot is requested, will be deemed to have been approved at 4pm on Friday August 18 2000."

Student union president Matt Coakley said: "The timing of this grace makes it hard to shake off the suspicion that the university is scared of a proper debate on this issue."

As The THES went to press, students were urging any staff remaining in Cambridge to sign a petition to force a ballot on the whole academic community on the decision. The student union is calling for a formal ethical policy.

GKN has been targeted by human rights campaigners for previously supplying military equipment to Indonesia, and for bidding to supply helicopters to Turkey.

The company, with a turnover of $4.6 billion (Pounds 3.1 billion) last year, retains a 30 per cent stake in the controversial military vehicle manufacturer, Alvis plc, and a quarter of GKN's business is in aerospace, including military helicopter manufacturer Westland. Selwyn College, Cambridge, has ruled out investments by GKN on ethical grounds.

GKN said it had no outstanding work with Indonesia and that all its trade rigidly adhered to the government's so-called ethical foreign policy.

Cambridge said that the timing of the grace was entirely in accordance with its rules of governance and said that there was a sound academic case for accepting the money, which will fund a GKN chair in manufacturing engineering. It said the money was coming from GKN's millennium fund, not from any specific business unit.

The university said that in deciding to accept donations, the university took into account "what is lawful and what is considered ethical by the UK government".

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