Southampton University and the Military: A Critical Relationship

Chart the major advances in science and technology throughout history and they can all be linked to one thing; the requirement of advancement of military power. In the last fifty […]

Chart the major advances in science and technology throughout history and they can all be linked to one thing; the requirement of advancement of military power.

In the last fifty years alone the Cold War has created GPS, mobile telephones  and advancements in robotic technology. Would air travel exist in its current form if Radar hadn’t been created in the 1930’s? Anything which has made modern life as easy as it is today is because somebody in military research asked “what if?”

If the money goes, so may people as respected as Tim Berners-Lee

This has particular poignancy for Southampton University. In a recession, where money is tighter then ever and university admissions across the board are lower than ever, money is tight. However, Southampton is in a great position. By having respected and world leading science and technology departments such as the School of Engineering and ECS, some of the smartest people in their fields complete their research in and around Southampton. Sir Tim Berners Lee, creator of the internet, has an office on campus.

This renown not only looks good on paper, but it brings in vast sums of money. If many of them weren’t secret, you could look through a list of researching topics and find many of them have been commissioned by either the MoD itself or the defence industries, ranging from new methods of propulsion to security analysis. Without these contracts the University would struggle to attract the calibre of researchers required to compete on an international level as staff would simply leave to join an institution where their research and expertise would be welcomed.

The MOD has a clear presence on campus

There is also a close relationship between the military itself and the University. Southampton is one of only five universities in the whole United Kingdom where all four university squadrons operate. The Royal Navy, Army, Royal Air Force and DTUS (Defence Technical Undergraduate Scheme) all have a very close relationship with the University which has resulted in the University creating a Military Education Committee which hosts key talks and conferences on the relationship between the military and education facilities. Hundreds of students are offered financial and pastoral support through these squadrons, with only DTUS students being contractually committed to a career within the MoD.

This may seem an odd topic to be covering, but we at The Tab have received notice that students are aiming to take a motion to Union Council later today that says that:

No department, student group, sports club or society shall receive any sponsorship, donation or any form of financial support from companies involved in the arms industry

It then follows to demand that no advertising linked to arms companies can be displayed in the Union and that all sponsorship can be allowed which contains links to the defence industry. The authors of this motion have in one fell swoop both insulted members of their union and put at risk the existence of a number of societies and sports teams as well as risked the future careers of many engineers.

‘The arms industry’ itself is such a vague term. Look through a list of attendees to the upcoming technology careers fair and at least half the companies attending are linked in some way to the industry. These companies are the same ones that sponsor many of the more niche and expensive societies that operate at a level where union funding alone cannot support them. These same societies enrich engineering students to a level where they have a skill-set to differentiate them from the norm, extremely important in an age of such high graduate unemployment. Without sponsorship from defence companies like EADS, societies such as Euroavia would cease to exist.

The motion itself actually goes against the second bullet point of the Union plan which decries that the Union will SUPPORT its members. This motion does the exact opposite. Attempting to enforce this motion will cause the Union to engage in direct confrontation with the University, a confrontation it has no chance of success in that will undo all good work in rapport building, whilst threatening the careers of students like those on the DTUS scheme who have already spent three years working towards a goal even before they start university and are now being told they should break their contract before they can join the Union fully. Throttling the avenues of sponsorship for those societies already struggling under the tight purse-strings of SUSU is not acceptable; as well as increasing the already absurd levels of red tape as societies and sports teams submit their sponsorship requests for analysis.

It is easy to think this is purely an overblown reaction by someone with a military link, but that would be ignoring the fact that this motion is egotistical and damaging. It will look good for the presentee to proclaim from the rooftops that they made SUSU ban the arms industry but has taken no notice of the bigger picture. This harms students. The same students this union was created to protect. We’re no longer in the swinging sixties, if we ban everyone who does something a bit bad we might as well shut every department and course except for English, because everyone else will likely end up working for a multi-national company.

This kind of petty and pedantic policy creation is one of the reasons for the current climate of disillusion with SUSU and what it is actually meant to do. Let’s focus on things which students need and want before we try to please the liberal lobbyists who’d blindly believe in everlasting peace in an increasingly fractious world.

Editors note: We have received clarification that this is not a policy motion simply a motion for the council to discuss the policy without it being put to vote. This means that this wouldn’t become policy at this current time simply that a gauge of opinion could be taken with a view to helping the council in the future.

What do you think of arms companies sponsoring societies? Would your society be affected by a ban? Let us know in the comments