FIFTEEN British universities and 21 Oxbridge colleges held shares in major arms-exporting companies last year, according to a blacklist compiled by the Campaign Against Arms Trade.
The pressure group looked at returns from BAe, GEC, GKN, Lucas Varity, Racal, Rolls-Royce and Vickers. It found that the Universities Superannuation Scheme was also a large investor, with shares in all seven companies.
According to company returns from May to November 1997, the biggest university shareholder was the University of London, with more than 1.2 million shares in arms-exporting firms. Close behind was the University of Oxford: its pension fund and the capital and trust funds of the university chest all held shares in Vickers.
Other major investors included Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester universities, Clare College, Cambridge and Balliol and St Hilda's colleges, Oxford.
Ray Hemmings, coordinator of CAAT's Clean Investment Campaign, said: "Some people feel uncomfortable about receiving a pension derived from the profits of the arms industry and should be aware that this is happening."
"The state of the arms trade and the public feeling about it is such at the moment that it is very questionable whether it is proper for universities to put funds into this type of investment," he said.
CAAT's past revelations about shares held by local authorities, charities and religious bodies have caused outrage and led some organisations to sell their holdings.
An Oxford spokeswoman said the capital fund no longer held shares in Vickers. "We have a wide-ranging portfolio that is invested on the recommendation of the university's investment committee and external advisers. We are concerned to ensure that the funds are invested safely and that we get the best return for the university."
Brigadier Tim Thompson, bursar of Clare College, said: "In the past fortnight we have transferred all investment in equities to a tracker fund so we don't hold any investments in these companies."
Malcolm Ace, deputy director of finance at Southampton University, where a separately administered pension fund owned shares in Rolls-Royce and Vickers, said: "We invest funds through professional fund managers. Our instructions to them are that they have to exclude investments linked to tobacco. But we do not exclude whole swathes of British engineering companies from our permitted portfolio." He said that as many universities had research links with these companies they could hardly refuse to invest in them.
Eric Bradshaw, principal assistant director of finance at Liverpool University, said: "We invest only in good names and known names. We do not have an ethical (investment) policy because we have always taken the view that it is the job of the investment committee to invest resources for the best purpose of the university."
WHAT HIGHER EDUCATION BACKS WITH ITS INVESTMENTS.
* BAe is Britain's largest arms exporter. It has supplied arms to Indonesia and Saudi Arabia * Rolls-Royce engines power the Indonesian army's Hawk fighters * GKN and Vickers make armoured vehicles * Lucas Varity's defence work includes missile manufacture * Racal and GCE are involved in defence electronics.
CAMPAIGN AGAINST ARMS TRADE BLACKLIST
Bath; Bristol;East Anglia; Edinburgh; Glasgow; Hull; Leeds; Liverpool; London; Manchester;Oxford;Queen's Belfast; Southamptonand Swansea.
Clare; Gonvilleand Caius; Jesus; New Hall; Newnham; Pembroke; Selwyn; Trinity; Magdelene; Sidney Sussexand St Johns.
Balliol; Nuffield; Pembroke; Somerville; St Anne's; St Hilda's; St John's; Trinity; University College and Wadham.