“We don’t want your war”: Student protesters demand divestment from the arms trade and military service providers

Published

Joanne Krus
Deputy News Editor

Students gathered in front of the Glasgow University Union building last Wednesday to protest University of Glasgow’s £3.1 investment in arms trade companies and military services providers.

The protesters chose to demonstrate during the Engineering and Technology fair where BAE Systems, a British multinational defence company, was a key sponsor.

Their message was that by investing in BAE Systems the university was being complicit in the war crimes being committed in Yemen and Syria. Protesters called for the university to divest from the arms trade in under two years.

Nearly 640 people marked as going or interested on The Glasgow University Arms Divestment Coalition’s official Facebook event, and approximately 100 students came to protest.

David Gabra, English literature and philosophy major and one of the protest organisers, said he was shocked upon finding how the university was spending its money and this had encouraged him and other students to take action.

The Glasgow University Arms Divestment Coalition has made five demands for the university, which Gabra expects them to immediately reject. One demand is for the university to ban arms companies from campus events because working for those companies “expresses complicity in them.”

Complicity was an important theme for the protestors, whose signs read “Stop funding Genocide” and “Arms out of Education,” referring to the weapons made by BAE which have been used in conflict zones around the world.

Glasgow University Amnesty International society president Conran Neave, made a speech highlighting the damage the arms trade is inflicting in these countries. He said that the weapons made by BAE Systems were used in Yemen to bomb a hospital staffed by Doctors Without Borders were working and killed civilians.

“The lack of accountability for investors, such as the University of Glasgow and of governments like the UK, has had a severe impact on civilians,” Neave said. “More than 17,600 reported have been killed or injured in a man-made humanitarian crisis. The flow of weapons must be stopped.”

Protestors pointed out the irony in the University’s slogan “World Changers Welcome” and one point chanted “World changers, not destroyers.” They also made it clear that they did not want the money they pay in tuition fees to be used to fund arms, though it is not clear if the money the university is investing comes from tuition fees.

“I feel like subjects like engineering have such a responsibility of promoting renewable energies and not investing in things like this,” said Louise, a geography student who attended the protest. “We obviously need the money from research and things like that, but there’s a different way of going about it”

Several students attending the fair were reluctant to comment because they felt they did not know enough about the issue and protests.

Sam Brough, a fourth year mechanical engineering student who was attending the fair, said he found the debate interesting.

“I think it’s quite right for people to question these donations. A lot of universities will be donating to companies like these because their graduates will benefit, not just Glasgow,” Brough said.

He added: “I think morally it’s not good but obviously its for their own gain because they know their graduates are more likely to get jobs there.”

A spokesperson for Campaign Against the Arms Trade, a UK organisation for abolition of the international arms trade, praised the protesters for speaking out.

The statement read: “Public money should be spent on the public good, and Glasgow students have done a great job of highlighting the hypocrisy of the University. It was great to see so many students at the protest. By funding these appalling companies, the University is making itself complicit in the terrible abuses they have enabled. We hope this campaign is successful and that Glasgow University sets a positive precedent that others can follow.”

Since the protest, Glasgow University Arms Divestment Coalition’s Change.org petition with their five demands has gained over 398 signatures.

The University of Glasgow is yet to respond to the protests.