Military has £210m research stake claim

Campaigners say official data could underrate value to sector by five times, writes Zoe Corbyn

June 12, 2008

Military funding of case study universities 2005-06
UniversityGovernment (£m)Corporate (£m)Total military funding* (£m)
Cambridge***1.942.854.79
Imperial College London***1.83 2.6 4.43
Bristol***2.241.22 3.46
Oxford***1.601.423.02
Southampton***1.80 0.852.65
Edinburgh***1.37 0.642.01
Newcastle**0.820.231.05
West of England***0.170.861.03
University College London***0.010.460.47
Plymouth**0.21None0.21
Exeter**0.10 0.060.16
Birkbeck**Not givenNot given0.12
Bournemouth**Not givenNot given0.04
* Includes government and corporate funding. Businesses included BAE Systems, Boeing, General Dynamics, GKN, Lockheed Martin, QinetiQ and Rolls-Royce. Government sources cover only those in the UK, including the Ministry of Defence, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and the former Department for Trade and Industry.%3Cbr /%3E%3Cbr /%3ESelected because thought to receive large amounts of military funding*** %3Cbr /%3E%3Cbr /%3ESelected randomly**
Table adapted from Behind Closed Doors: Military Influence, Commercial Pressures and the Compromised University by Scientists for Global Responsibility, June 2008. Table should be read in conjunction with notes therein. See: www.sgr.org.uk
Official statistics underestimate the amount of money flowing into UK universities for military research by as much as five times, according to a new report.

The pressure group Scientists for Global Responsibility, which campaigns against military influence in science, engineering and technology, says that UK universities' military research income could be as high as £210 million, compared with official figures of about £44 million.

The group argues that while the military has a growing influence on the research agenda, most activity is shrouded in secrecy and lacks the transparency required under the principles for academic freedom.

"Funding is not open and transparent, and I think that is something we should be concerned about," Chris Langley, co-author of the report, told Times Higher Education.

The report, Behind Closed Doors: Military Influence, Commercial Pressures and the Compromised University, compares the most recent official figures for the amount of money both government departments and businesses spend on defence research in the higher education sector with figures it derives from income data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from a sample of 13 universities.

It concludes that while official statistics put the money flowing into the sector at £44 million in 2004 - an average of about £400,000 a year for each of the 100 or so UK institutions - data extrapolated from the 13 "case study" universities puts annual military funding per university in the region of £2.1 million.

The group acknowledges that its estimate is based on a sample that includes "a significant fraction of universities receiving higher than average military funding", but says: "The discrepancy is nevertheless very disturbing. Our analysis leads us to ask whether government statistics in this area are as reliable as they should be."

The report is also critical of universities for being secretive and evasive when it comes to their involvement with defence research, concluding that comprehensive data is very difficult to obtain "due to a combination of incomplete record-keeping, commercial restrictions, pressures on researchers and, most disturbingly, evasiveness on the part of officials".

Universities need to remember that they are publicly funded "and therefore need to be more accountable", the report says, calling for "much greater acceptance" among senior academics and university managers of the fact that other staff, students and the wider community see military involvement on campus as a "serious ethical concern".

A spokesman for Universities UK said it did not accept the claim that universities were not accountable.

"On occasion, there will of course be legitimate commercial or security reasons for restricting information on some activities ... The suggestion that universities are not properly dealing with Freedom of Information requests is unfounded," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defence said it had confidence in the official statistics. She said the ministry offered contracts for specific services and products and that, while the level of investment on direct contractual arrangements was known, subcontract details were not gathered centrally.

"The MoD does not believe such information is of either practical use or its compilation represents value for money for the taxpayer," she said.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

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