Arms links at 67 UK institutions

October 21, 2005

'Name and shame' exercise details 33 million shares in weapons makers. Phil Baty reports

Universities will face unprecedented pressure to scrap multimillion-pound investments in the arms trade after a campaign group used the Freedom of Information Act to "name and shame" institutions with shareholdings in weapons manufacturers.

The Campaign against the Arms Trade (CAAT) this week handed The Times Higher a detailed list of 67 universities that are "substantial" investors in six leading arms companies.

The group expects the data, published this week on its website, will subject universities to increased scrutiny and give added vigour to the type of ethical investment campaigns that the University of East Anglia confirmed had led it to divest from arms companies in 2001.

Campaigns recently persuaded both the Catholic Church and the Church of England to cease investing in arms manufacturers.

While universities with substantial arms investments stressed their obligation to maximise investment returns, campaigners argued they would have to consider their images, especially with overseas students.

"Universities' wealth provides major funding for a trade that fuels international tensions," said Mike Lewis of CAAT.

"The Fo... act puts pressure on universities that hasn't happened before as they are open to public scrutiny as never before."

In its "clean investment" campaign report, CAAT says that 67 of the 152 institutions that provided information have shareholdings in at least one of six leading arms companies, including BAE Systems, GKN and Smiths Group, which produces components for Apache attack helicopters.

The group has listed an "Ivy League" of the ten biggest investors, which together hold at least 33 million shares in six firms.

The group includes Cambridge and Oxford universities, which combined hold more than 3 million shares, and Swansea, Liverpool, Exeter, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham universities.

The single biggest holder of shares is the Universities Superannuation Scheme, the lecturers' pensions body, with more than 24 million shares in the six firms.

Birmingham University said that it already had an ethical investment policy. The arms investments were made by its pension scheme, a separate legal entity, whose fund managers, it said, were free to configure its investment portfolio to maximise returns.

Liverpool said it had a "socially responsible investment policy", balanced against an obligation to maximise investment returns.

Manchester said its "broad portfolio of investments" included "some of the biggest names in British industry".

"Our intention is to secure the best possible long-term return for endowment funds, so we give our investment managers freedom to invest in the full range of quoted companies," a spokesman said.

Barry Hedley, bursar at Gonville and Cauis College, Cambridge, confirmed that his college had recently divested itself of arms company shares, saying it was entirely to do with financial policy and not related to ethical concerns.

"We should leave it to government and democratic politics to determine what companies should and shouldn't do," he said.

Martha Beale, campaigns officer of the Christian peace campaign group The Fellowship of Reconciliation, said: "While millions of young people are denied basic education due to wars and conflict, it is scandalous that educational institutions promote and sustain wars through investments in the arms trade."

She said the group was investigating the links between military companies and UK universities, particularly in relation to research projects with military support. It aims to publish the results of this next year. </a>

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