Black-ops, armies and spies: Cambridge University funding in the spotlight again

27 January 2011

University arms grants under fire from students

The release of this year’s accounts has sparked anger and outrage after it emerged that Cambridge University received funding from a number of ethically-dubious government organisations, despite “the vast majority of students and staff being opposed to these ‘defence’ organisations.”

Figures show that the University received funding from controversial organisations such as the British intelligence agency, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the American Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and also the US Army.

Abi Haque of the Campaign Against Arms Trade was quick to condemn the practise:  “Yet again students are being forced to question the ethics of Cambridge University in accepting grants to research innovations which have the potential to be used in secretive operations against unknown enemies and will likely deliver highly destructive consequences.”

She added that “as a highly prestigious public institution with some of the world’s top minds, the university should be concerned that it continues fund itself by directly assisting the development of technologies used to oppress, control and kill”.

Student activist Jacob Wills was equally angry at “the university management’s refusal to engage in the debate on national funding policy”. He added: “The VC’s position seems untenable – he maintains that he believes in the academic independence of the university while openly ushering in influential private investors to close the funding gap.”

He further reiterated that “there are no ethical controls on them or the companies that management invest in”.

With superior resources they can then cherry pick students with the offer of wiping out the loan debt to the government, academic independence in thrall to economics.”

However CUSU’s campaign for Socially Responsible Investment was in strong disagreement with Wills, arguing that:

While personally we disagree with the University’s acceptance of funding from these defence organisations, in the current climate, particularly with the imminent increase of tuition fees, it would be irresponsible of the University to turn down sources of income.”

CUSU President, Rahul Mansigani told The Cambridge Student:  “Given the deficit in government funding for many courses, it is a financial reality that the University must seek money from elsewhere. CUSU believes that the University should involve itself financially only with organisations which are consistent with Cambridge’s educational mission.”

Ashley Walsh, Chair of Cambridge Universities Labour Club, echoed Mansigani’s sentiments:

“Provided the University is willing to be open and transparent about the sources of its funding, and provided its funding it both legal and guaranteed to be impartial, it is justified for it to seek a wide range of backers for its research.

“The University should never accept funding from illegal sources, dodgy backers, or those with questionable agenda.”

The University has yet to explain what the money is being used for, but have promised us a disclosure by next week’s issue.

Sample Data:

US Army – Amount: £212,000

The largest of the American armed forces, currently employing more than 1,100,000 soldiers. The Department of Defense budget is slated to be $664 billion in 2010, higher than at any other point in American history. Last year, Wikileaks released a video showing a US air crew shooting down Iraqi civilians.

Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) – Amount: £119,000

Known as Britain’s most secret intelligence agency, GCHQ is responsible for providing signals intelligence and information assurance to the UK government and forces. In March 2010, GCHQ was embroiled in controversy after it emerged it had lost 35 laptops, potentially containing highly sensitive national intelligence data.

Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) – Amount: £67,000

DARPA, an agency of the United States Department of Defence, is responsible for developing new technology for military use. Referred to by Tech website The Register as, the “US military mad-scientist bureau”, amongst DARPA’s innovations is the idea to use cyborg moths for espionage purposes.

Elle Dickinson – Deputy News Editor

Image: Mark Holloway (US Army)