Bloodhound SSC: is a project inspiring students to work for the military sustainable?

Bloodhound SSC is an engineering project that aims to break the 1000mph World Land Speed Record with a rocket-propelled car. Since starting in 2008, the project has been widely praised for its ambition and technology. However, an interview given by the project’s Senior Design Engineer  in April this year suggests that the project was only set up to address a skill shortage within the military. Besides that UWE is heavily involved to serve the military, drawing on the recently published “Arms to Renewables” report by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), UWE student highlights broader implications for employability and sustainability.

Read more on the WesternEye.

A closer look at UWE Bristol’s “Distinguished Address Series”

Since 2008, UWE’s Bristol Business School has been running the so-called “Bristol Distinguished Address Series“. This series is described by the university as “a unique opportunity to hear about the challenges, issues and decisions being made at the highest level of strategic leadership” and promoted as an opportunity to “meet leaders of industry“. However, more than a platform enabling and relaying the university’s pro-business agenda, this series has featured several arms companies.

On 16 October 2014, as part of the so-called “Bristol Distinguished Address Series“, UWE Bristol hosted Leo Quinn, the CEO of QinetiQ. QinetiQ is the 6th largest UK arms company  according to tCampaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), and the 52th biggest global defence company by revenue according to Defence News’ Top 100 for 2012. Qinetiq prides itself on its expertise designing weapons, and for providing facilities and products for testing weapons. It is a close partner of the Ministry of Defence, from which it received £998m in 2013 as the third five-year term payment of a 25-years long partnering agreement.

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A postcard produced by campaigners highlights the kind of technology QinetiQ makes its business from, and how it is used. Source: Better Together.

This is not the first time UWE invites this particular arms dealer. On 28 October 2009, the same “distinguished address” series invited Graham Love, then QinetiQ’s Chief Executive Officer. Interestingly, one day after being celebrated as an exemplary business leader at UWE, Graham Love would quit his job after the company was criticised for “fail[ing] to properly fulfil its duties as an independent advisor” in the investigation of the Nimrod plane crash that claimed 14 lives.

Qinetic_and_friendsFrom left to right: Jane Harrington (Pro Vice-Chancellor and Executive Dean of UWE’s Faculty of Business and Law and UWE Governor), Graham Love (CEO of  QinetiQ), John Rushforth (UWE’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor) and Nicholas O’Regan (UWE Professor at Bristol Business School and founder of the “Distinguished Address Series”). Picture taken the day of Graham Love’s speech on 28 October 2009 at UWE Bristol (Frenchay campus), and one day before the CEO of QinetiQ quit his job following the Nimrod plane crash scandal. Picture from UWE Bristol Business School flickr account.

QinetiQ is also not the only arms dealer UWE has hosted as part of this “lecture” series. Past guests have included BAE Systems (3rd biggest global defence company according to Defence News’2012 ranking), Boeing (2nd biggest according to the same ranking), nuclear specialists Babcock, (32nd biggest) or  Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S, self-described as a “bespoke trading entity” of the MoD with an annual budget of £14 billion). Besides speakers from the arms trade, the series also featured managers of “distinguished” businesses such as Tesco, Hilton or Lloyds Banking Group.

The Bristol Distinguished Address Series (also sometimes referred to as Distinguished Executive Address Series, DEA) has been running since at least 2008. According to David Pinchard, the series was launched by Nicholas O’Reagan, a Professor at Bristol Business School. Achieved in partnership with pro-business organisations such as Business Westthe UK’s top business lobbying organisation, the Institute of Directors, or Bristol Junior Chamber, it  is UWE Bristol’s event to engage with, celebrate and facilitate big business, thus contributing to the university’s pro-business “partnership” strategy.

Thus, while those events are branded as a “lecture” and promoted to students as a “a unique opportunity to hear about the challenges, issues and decisions being made at the highest level of strategic leadership”, they are also advertised to the business community as a social and networking event complete with “wine and canapes”: After every event there is an opportunity to network and build up your business industry contacts.

For the university, it seems that any business goes. Distinguishing such managers and setting them as models is completely unproblematic. Hence, for example, QinetiQ’s talk was about “cultural transformation”. The fact that QinetiQ makes huge profits through developing, testing and manufacturing arms was written off the event’s description, UWE speaking instead of the country’s “largest research and technology organisation”. Moreover, the university’s spokesperson claimed that the event represented the university’s “culture of free and open discussion. UWE Bristol thus not just trivialises the arms trade, but celebrates and furthers  corporate greed including profiteers from the business of death, under the pretence of democracy.

Does a speech by a business manager constitute democratic debate? Should UWE keep celebrating and enabling the arms trade through its “distinguished” #BristolLecture series? Is it ok for a university to legitimise the arms trade, trivialising it and making it look respectable? Is it ok for a university to further the interests of any business? And should UWE’s “distinguished address series” host a high-ranking manager of British Petroleum on 11 February 2015, at the beginning of Bristol Green Capital? Let us know what you think over here and/or on twitter (#BristolLectures).

Photo report of #reviewUWE and #GDAMS day of action at UWE Bristol

We had a fun and instructive walk around campus this afternoon.
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This little action also already proved quite effective since UWESU, the Deputy Clerk to the Board of Governors and the Editor of the student newspaper stopped ignoring us, and all got in touch shortly before or after the action!

We’ll be posting more updates about this campaign soon but, for the time being, we’ve put together a short photo report of the afternoon. Please join our next coordination meeting this coming Thursday (17 April) at 5:30 in Core24 at UWE Frenchay if you want to get involved. Please also don’t forget to sign the petition if you haven’t done this already.

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Students and supporters gather at UWE’s bus station at Frenchay. Some students came from as far as Portsmouth for this day of action!

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In the corridors of UWE’s Frenchay campus.

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On the way to the Farmhouse, the office of UWE’s Vice-Chancellor and the building where UWE’s Board of Governors meet.

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Activist arms factory: today we’re making paper airplanes.

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Those paper airplanes are to bombard the farmhouse with messages and requests to hold an independent review.

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This may seem small but this is the first time ever that there is a student protest at the doorstep of the Vice-Chancellor’s office (not that there aren’t many reasons to do so!)

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Trying to communicate with UWE’s Vice-Chancellor (who ignored our open letter) by aiming our paper airplanes at one opened window (which they soon closed).

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The Farmhouse: bombarded

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A message from UWE students and their supporters for UWE’s Vice-Chancellor and the university’s Board of Governors

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Inside the entrance of Thales

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We were followed by the police who were more gentle than last November.

If you haven’t already, please consider signing, sharing and promoting our petition to #reviewUWE. To be continued …

Open letter to UWE VC requesting independent review of 20 November 2013 protests against military business and arms fair at UWE

Dear Steve West, Vice-Chancellor of UWE,

In 2012 and 2013, the first two editions of ‘DPRTE’, a military business and arms fair key to the UK’s business of death, were hosted by UWE in its Exhibition and Conference Centre (ECC) at UWE’s Frenchay campus. A group of UWE students took part in protests against DPRTE 2013[1].

On 20 November 2013, the Western Eye, the only media that was present onsite and that thus could directly observe the protests, reported that “students stage[d] ‘impeccable’ protest” and that “Most student observations of the day’s events favoured the humble efforts of the protestors to hold both the ‘arms’ industry and UWE to account for it actions” (The WesternEye, 20/11/2013[2]).

However, at the end of the day, UWE students denounced UWE management’s strategy of “prioritising business of any kind, even at the detriment of the physical integrity and the freedom of expression of a handful of students who did their utmost best to air very important points, despite systematic silencing, hostility and even sometimes aggression.”[3]

Since then, it has become clear that protesters’ attempts to raise awareness about this event, and to open a debate about it, were met with considerable hostility, sometimes extending to harassment and violence, and systematic silencing, intimidation, repression and criminalisation. As a result, protesters’ health and safety, freedom of expression and democratic rights to protest were breached following actions, as well as inaction, from DPRTE participants, police, UWE and UWESU.

UWE students who participated in those protests now demand that UWE funds, impulses and facilitates a transparent, comprehensive and independent review to investigate the issues that arose through, and since, the protests against DPRTE on 20 November 2013.

A transparent review should:

  • Be widely publicised both within and beyond UWE, and provide clear procedures for people to get involved and provide input,
  • Protect sensitive or confidential data as well as the identity of witnesses,
  • Publicise the process for performing the review,
  • Widely publicise the outcomes of the review.

A comprehensive review should include investigations into, and make recommendations based on, the following areas:

  • UWE’s decision to rent out the ECC to DPRTE. Indeed, according to UWE students, this decision was not democratic, and contradicts some of the university’s claimed commitments, especially regarding social justice or sustainability.
  • UWE’s duty of care and democratic responsibilities, especially after Steve West [UWE’s Vice-Chancellor], Keith Hicks [UWE’s Director of Marketing & Communications], John Rushforth [UWE’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor], Paul Gough [UWE’s Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic)] and Lucy Wicksteed [UWE’s Head of Executive Support and Project Co-ordinator for the VC] were informed about, and decided to ignore, urgent concerns about health and safety and democratic rights raised by UWE students.
  • The role of UWE security, especially in relation to protesters’ health and safety. Indeed, UWE security facilitated traffic of drivers towards DPRTE at the detriment of the health and safety of protesters. More specifically, UWE security encouraged drivers to cross the gates near protesters even when or after they displayed careless or threatening driving towards protesters.
  • The direct involvement of UWE staff against the protests. Indeed, besides UWE security, Steve West, UWE VC was seen near the ECC intimidating protesters, including UWE students. Moreover, Annette Hennessy, UWE’s Head of Security, was seen taking pictures of protesters without their consent and without justification.
  • The policing of protests against DPRTE, most of which took place on university (private) land including the intimidation, repression, harassment and criminalisation of protesters by the police.
  • The role of PC Mark Brain (UWE’s community police officer) who was involved with policing this event.
  • The collaboration between the police and UWE, including the possible involvement of UWE staff in such criminalisation. In particular, on the one hand, UWE allowed one intelligence-gathering police team to gather video evidence on non-protesting students at the very heart of the University, far from any protest and after all protests had ceased[4] and, on the other hand, Annette Hennessy, UWE’s Head of Security, was seen gathering evidence about protesters without their consent. The review should determine what evidence was gathered by Annette Hennessy, whether that or any other evidence collected by UWE staff was shared with the police and, conversely, whether the police shared any evidence with UWE staff.
  • The behaviour of DPRTE participants and DPRTE organisers towards the protests and the protesters. In particular, one protester was assaulted by a DPRTE participant who caused him a bleeding injury. Moreover, DPRTE organisers silenced the issues by writing off the protests from their communications throughout the day and by claiming they were having a fantastic event.
  • The responsibilities of the WesternEye. In particular, on 20 November 2013, one of their journalists stated that “The Western Eye will be publishing a full review of the day’s events, from both inside and outside the ECC, later this week”. However, it failed to do so, contributing to the silencing of student activists.
  • UWESU’s responsibilities. In particular, UWESU ignored an urgent request to meet the five presidents in person to discuss breaches to our health and safety as well as to our democratic rights (emailed to all five presidents and discussed in person with Hannah Khan, VP Societies and Communication). Since then, UWESU has also systematically obstructed attempts to hold UWE and UWESU accountable for their actions on 20 November.
  • UWE’s democratic culture. In addition to the numerous issues previously briefly evoked, some protesters reported, and were witnessed, being bullied by fellow UWE students for participating to the 20 November protests.

Given UWE’s actions on the day and subsequently, particularly the direct involvement of UWE VC and UWE’s Head of Security against the protests, as well as UWE’s contempt for protesters’ security and democratic rights, students have no trust in UWE and call for this review to be fully independent from UWE. Given UWESU’s actions on the day, in particular the fact that UWESU presidents ignored an urgent request to meet in order to discuss the safeguarding of protesters’ security and democratic rights, as well as UWESU’s subsequent obstruction of efforts to hold UWE and UWESU accountable for their actions on 20 November 2013, participating students have no trust in UWESU and call for this review to be fully independent from UWESU. The independence of the review would then be guaranteed by a panel of experts from across a wide and adequate range of disciplines, selected from within and outside UWE, for their demonstrable commitment to:

  • the importance of intellectual pluralism within universities,
  • the role of universities in advancing progressive social change throughout history,
  • the democratic role of universities within contemporary societies.

We look forward to reading a clear answer to this demand for a transparent, comprehensive and independent review at your earliest opportunity.

Yours sincerely,

UWE students