By allowing the arms trade into schools and colleges we are teaching children that innovation for the sake of destruction is acceptable

Lucy Nichols


A bombed classroom in Yemen

Private arms companies and government-owned military organisations have wormed their way into the British education system. Global arms companies have links with many UK Universities; investing in research programmes, poaching recent graduates and funding new buildings.

But these links stretch further than this into our education system, as weapons manufacturers also invest their time and money into schools across the country. Raytheon, an American weapons and cyber security company with multiple UK sites, holds an annual ‘Quadcopter Challenge’ in which children are encouraged to design the best drone they can. Billed as a means for the company to ‘invest in its future workforce’ by promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, this programme reached over 1,000 14-15 year-olds nationwide in 2018 and has the backing of the government; last year Baroness Sugg CBE helped judge the contest.

Pushing STEM subjects is common amongst private arms manufacturers and government-funded military organisations; QinetiQ and BAE Systems each boast various outreach programmes. In 2017, BAE partnered up with the Royal Navy and the RAF to visit 420 schools with a workshop designed to encourage the uptake of science and maths amongst 10-13 year olds. That year, BAE Systems also joined forces with the Royal Navy, QinetiQ and the University of Portsmouth to open a college.

Portsmouth’s University Technical College (UTC) allows students to complete GCSEs and further educational qualifications in STEM subjects, whilst giving them ‘regular engagement’ with ‘employers and partners’. These partners include the likes of Airbus, who build the fighter jets used by Saudi Arabia in the war on Yemen; and BAE Systems, who produced the missiles used by the UK in its bombing of Syria.

In addition to encouraging young children and teenagers to take up sciences, dozens of universities from Southampton to Sheffield are making millions of pounds from arms industry investment.

The University of Cambridge, for example, received £13.7m from private arms companies between 2008 and 2011. The University of Sheffield was also funded £13.7m during this period, along with Imperial College London, which was granted over £16m between 2008 and 2017.

BAE Systems in particular has a vested interest in British higher education. Southampton, Strathclyde, Manchester, Cranfield and Birmingham are five ‘strategic partner universities’, which have all signed long-term partnership deals with BAE to be ‘mutually productive’. Recently, the company handed out awards to PhD students from each of these institutions for various research projects. The overall winner was a project from the University of Strathclyde that developed new technology for detecting far away targets.

The company responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Yemenis through the selling of arms to the Saudi-led Coalition, is being facilitated by universities and students across the country. BAE aims to take on 700 apprentices in 2019 and boasts that it is ‘one of the biggest UK supporters of education’ that has links to ‘approximately 100 universities’ worldwide. It remains unclear if this commitment to education extends to the two million Yemeni children who can’t go to school because of the war BAE Systems is helping wage.

These companies gloat that by promoting STEM subjects they are pioneering a better, safer future. The arms industry puts on a front of humanity and tells us that the good work it does in this country outweighs the destruction it unleashes overseas.  This is simply not the case.

By allowing the arms trade into schools, colleges and universities, we are teaching children that innovation for the sake of destruction is acceptable and desirable. There is only a small leap between teaching schoolchildren to make toy drones and getting graduates to build real ones.

05 Feb 2019

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