BREAKING: Students occupying Margaret Fell building over Lancaster Uni’s arms relations

Demilitarise Lancaster says it has no plans to leave the building

Lancaster University students have taken over the Margaret Fell lecture theatre, demanding the university cuts ties with arms companies.

The students, who took over the building last night, are refusing to move from within the 400 seat lecture theatre until the university agrees to meet with them, amongst other demands.

The group claiming responsibility for the action, Demilitarise Lancaster, has said it’s demanding “the University cancel all contracts and collaboration with arms companies, refuse to take any more funding from them, and terminate their attendance at careers fairs and careers talks.”

Furthermore, the group is also calling on the University to support the UCU demands, and for University management to meet with the occupiers about how to take their demands forward.

This comes after earlier this year, Lancaster University and BAE Systems signed an agreement to share research between them. They also announced that they would be working with the Univeristy of Cumbria and BAE Systems to open a new college campus in Barrow-in-Furness.

This occurred in the same year that Lancaster University announced it would be screening out arms trade investments.  Demilitarise Lancaster claims this shows the University are continuing to “strengthen their ties with companies complicit in war crimes, funnelling students into careers with arms companies through careers fairs and graduate schemes”.

A spokesperson for Lancaster University said: “As an anchor institution, Lancaster University forms a key part of the local economy and works with a diverse range of partners and businesses, from Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) and local authorities, to international corporations.

“Our work with BAE Systems underpins diverse activity, including research into sustainable technologies, and deepens our engagement with regional business, enhancing business growth and opportunity.

“Open dialogue and debate is very important to us as a university, and as proponents of free speech we support the right for individuals to express their views.

“We also support our academics’ freedom to identify and  associate with legitimate organisations as part of their research activity.”

In the last five years, BAE Systems has sold £15 billion worth of arms and services to Saudi Arabia. A BAE Systems spokesperson told The Guardian: “We provide defence equipment, training and support under government to government agreements between the UK and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.‎ We comply with all relevant export control laws and regulations in the countries in which we operate and our activities are subject to UK government approval and oversight.”

One of the occupiers, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “The University is clearly aware of how immoral and unjustifiable the arms trade is, which is why they have announced they are divesting from arms companies.

“To then be expanding their relationships with these same companies in spite of their divestment, is completely two-faced and hypocritical. The University must sever all ties, not just investment.”

The occupation in Lancaster comes as a part of a wave of occupations at universities across the country this term, including Bristol, Leeds and Sheffield.

Demilitarise Lancaster have said that they have no current plans to leave, and are holding workshops to educate other students  throughout their time occupying the building. 

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