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Students seize Arts Tower to protest Sheffield University links with arms manufacturers

Data reveals the institution has received more investment from weapons manufacturers than any other university in the UK.


Students began occupying the Arts Tower on Thursday night.

Sheffield Action Group.

A group of students at the University of Sheffield (UoS) have started an occupation of the Arts Tower building to protest against the institution's links with global weapons manufacturers.

Just under 20 students entered the building at around 7pm on Thursday and say they will "stay as long as is necessary" until UoS meet their demands to cut all ties with firms like Boeing and BAE Systems.

A transparency request shared with the Star reveals that UoS have received £72 million in research funding over the past ten years from companies that manufacture weapons and military hardware alongside civilian products.

This is higher than any other university in the UK, with the majority of funding coming from Rolls-Royce – who even have a building on campus named after them.

According to UoS, the Rolls-Royce University Technology Centre "undertakes research programmes under the direction of Rolls-Royce with a view to facilitating advancements in technology aimed at future Rolls-Royce market requirements."

But campaign groups say it is often impossible for academics to know whether the research they carry out for these companies will be used for civilian or military purposes (or sometimes both, such as aircraft technology).

"I'm occupying my uni because Sheffield University management is complicit in war crimes from Yemen to Palestine through its financial ties with arms manufacturers," said one of the student demonstrators.

Sheffield Action Group, who organised the ongoing occupation, say they are also protesting against the British Army's presence at student careers fairs.


The Arts Tower on Thursday night.

Sheffield Action Group.

Last week, the group unfurled a huge banner reading "GET MILITARY OFF CAMPUS" from the concourse outside the Student Union, right above an Army recruitment stall.

The Action Group will hold an open meeting at the Rutland Arms on 1 October at 1pm "for students who wish to learn more about the university's links to the arms trade and how they can help resist."

The protestors point to a UoS policy from 2020 (PDF, 3 pages) which states that endowments left to the university should not be directly invested in the "manufacture or sale of armaments" – but the document does not appear to rule out wider investment in companies involved in the trade.

The policy even goes on to state that one aim of university investments should be the "promotion of international co-operation and an end to international conflict." It is not clear how investing in weapons manufacturers meets this stated aim.

According to Campaign Against Arms Trade, Rolls-Royce manufacture engines for the Eurofighter Typhoon jets that are used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

The United Nations have called the ongoing assault against Yemen "the world’s worst humanitarian crisis", and say that two-thirds of the population (21.6 million people) are in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

Now Then has previously revealed how UoS hired private investigators to monitor candidates in Student Union elections who, among other things, called for the institution to cut its ties with the arms trade.

A spokesperson for the university told Now Then that “a small group of people have occupied the Arts Tower" and that "some lectures and seminars have been moved to alternative locations."

We asked them how receiving funding from weapons manufacturers aligns with their ethical investment policy, but they declined to answer this specific point.

They instead said that, like other universities with engineering R&D, UoS "undertakes research with a wide range of manufacturing and engineering companies in sectors including energy and aerospace."

"Our connections with industrial partners mean we can help to influence positive change and accelerate more sustainable manufacturing practices."

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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