Cambridge Deputy Vice Chancellor in Middle East arms controversy

24 February 2011

Cambridge University Deputy Vice Chancellor, Stuart Laing has been exposed as a member of a delegation to sell arms to the Middle East.

Laing, also Master of Corpus Christi College, is part of the much criticised tour of the Middle East being led by David Cameron, which includes delegates from eight of the largest arms corporations in the world including BAE Systems, Rolls Royce and QinetiQ.

The tour has been condemned for promoting British interests at the expense of stability in the region. Despite claims that export licences have now been revoked for both Libya and Bahrain, several of the touring companies have had long relationships with both powers.

A University spokesman told The Cambridge Student that: “Stuart Laing is there in his capacity as Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University to promote our interests across the Middle East. It is perfectly normal for him to travel with the Prime Minister.” However, the University refused to comment on the presence of arms companies in the delegation, including some known for extensive dealings with Libya.

The relationship of the University and Colleges with these companies has been widely criticised. Several colleges still hold shares directly in BAE and Rolls Royce and many more colleges indirectly invest in these companies through pooled funds. The University refused to disclose whether it had any investments in these companies.

BAE Systems signed a contract to supply £200 million of weaponry to Libya in 2007-2008 when five colleges held shares in the company. In June 2008, Trinity, Queens’, Magdalene, Downing and Darwin all owned shares with a combined value of £848,168.

Even today, despite lobbying, Magdalene still holds 40,000 BAE shares, worth over £130,000. Only Downing and Darwin were able to confirm that their shares had been sold. Meanwhile, as TCS revealed last term, BAE has continued to invest in the University, donating £400,000 in 2008.

Similarly, several colleges had holdings in GKN who part-own Augusta Westland Helicopters, a company closely linked to Libyan arms deals. In 2008, St John’s College owned over £4 million of shares in the company.

According to their own website, Augusta Westland recently supplied the Libyan Government with 20 helicopters including double-engine models for “border patrol duties” and larger models for “general security”. The company has been involved with the University for over a decade, funding helicopter research worth £1.8 million as early as 1997.

Campaign Against The Arms Trade spokeswoman, Kaye Stearman, attacked the University: “Stuart Laing may assert that he is promoting university interests but this trip will damage them. Cambridge University, which already accepts donations from arms giants like BAE and Augusta Westland, will see its reputation further tarnished.”

Philip Brook –Editor

Photo Credit: Dvdshub