Bristol Uni students pen open letter to vice-chancellor protesting links to arms companies

They are calling for the university to cut ties with companies supplying arms to Israel amid the conflict with Palestine

Last Tuesday (December 12th) a group of Bristol Uni staff and students wrote an open letter to the vice-chancellor, Evelyn Welch, expressing their “request that as vice-chancellor you take meaningful steps to end the university’s complicity in Israeli violations of international law.”

The letter states that the university’s partnerships with organisations that supply Israel with arms, like Rolls Royce, are actively “enabling Israel’s attacks on civilians and continuing breaches of international law.”

The letter goes on to condemn the National Composites Centre, a Bristol University-owned research and development centre which, amongst other things, helps manufacturers develop defence systems.

It calls for full financial transparency and the disclosure of relationships with companies “profiting from Israel’s human rights breaches and its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories.”

The students and staff write: “As an education institution, we have a moral and legal duty to uphold humanitarian values and international law not only within our institution, but also with regard to the wider social impacts of our work locally and globally.”

In 2020 Manchester University divested nearly £2 million from companies involved in supporting Israel following student protest, something which the letter hopes Bristol University will follow.

The letter concludes by saying: “We hope the University will not remain silent on the issue.” You can read it here.

Professor Evelyn Welch, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol, said: “It’s important that staff and students raise concerns about issues they feel strongly about, and we will always listen and engage.

“All our partnerships, industrial or otherwise, undergo stringent due diligence checks and ethical review. I met with the local organisers responsible for the letter last week and was able to hear their point of view.

“As part of that meeting, I made a commitment to look into the points that were raised. We will respond once we have investigated the full details of the issues that have been raised with us.”

A Rolls-Royce spokesperson said: “Rolls-Royce supports the UK Government and its allies in providing power solutions for defence purposes. In doing so, we abide by all applicable export control and sanctions laws.

“In the UK, those regulations demand that exports are considered against a range of criteria, including relevant international law.”

On Friday 8th December, Extinction Rebellion Youth Bristol led a protest outside of the university’s Royal Fort Gardens similarly calling for an end to the university’s links with arms companies.

The flyer states that Bristol Uni “accepted at least £12 million from arms companies in the last 7 years.”

They also highlighted the arms trade’s impact on the environment, stating that “an estimated 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions are a result of the global military. more than all civilian aviation.”

Bristol University was the first in the UK to declare a climate emergency in 2019, and in 2020 completely divested from all investments in fossil fuel companies.

The two recent student protests highlight an increasing dissatisfaction amongst students at the university’s financial involvement with arms companies.

In response to the protest a University of Bristol spokesperson said: “We respect our students’ right to raise concerns about issues they feel strongly about and we will continue to listen to and engage with their views.

“It’s important to remember that defence companies do a lot more than arms manufacturing and development. All partnerships undergo stringent due diligence checks and ethical review first, ensuring the University is using its expertise to influence positive change. One example is creating materials for lighter, more fuel-efficient cars and planes which will benefit the environment.

“These connections also mean that we can provide our students with information about a wide range of organisations offering placements and graduate jobs at our careers fairs so they can make personal informed decisions about their future careers.”

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