Relationships with organisations operating in the defence sector

The University of Bristol is ranked among the world’s leading research-intensive universities. We have a successful track record of translating scientific discoveries into positive real-world advances. We work with organisations in a wide range of sectors, including those operating in the defence sector.

Organisations operating in the defence sector

It is important to recognise that organisations operating in the defence sector usually do much more than arms manufacturing and development.

For example, some also develop wind tunnels, creating materials for lighter, more fuel-efficient cars and planes which will benefit the environment. Others create electric vehicle propulsion systems. 

Where we do have relationships with organisations operating in the defence sector, our work is either related to their civil sectors or some other socially beneficial purpose. For example, work to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

We do not facilitate the sale or manufacture of conventional weapons and armaments to military regimes. 

However, we recognise that certain research areas have the potential for ‘dual use’ in defence applications. For example, digital technology domains such as artificial intelligence and cyber security.

Our approach to academic freedom

UK universities have a clear duty to maintain academic freedom and a legal obligation to ensure freedom of speech within the law. 

Our University constitution states that our academics: 

“…shall have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges.” 

As long as the activities are lawful, the University will not prohibit a member of our community from:

  • maintaining open communications, links and research collaborations with universities around the world, or any public, private, voluntary and commercial organisations, or
  • employing a particular research methodology.

Partnership diligence checks and transparency

Every university partnership is different. We undertake due diligence checks on each partnership to make sure we are using our expertise in compliance with UK law to influence positive change.

We want to be open about whom we partner with and why, and are proud of the work we do. We aim for a high degree of transparency in our partnerships. However, we cannot be fully transparent as there are sometimes complexities, commercial considerations and confidentiality agreements in place for partnership contracts. 

Following a series of meetings with students and staff, we have committed to working together to further enhance transparency where we can. 

We undertake in-depth due diligence on public, private, voluntary and commercial organisations who we work with. This includes financial, reputational and national security considerations in compliance with laws, including: the National Security and Investment Act, Export Controls Act, Academic Technology Approval Scheme, Foreign Influence Registration Scheme, and the Freedom of Speech Act.

As stated in our Ethics of Research Policy and Procedure, we expect all researchers to fully consider the current and future ethical implications of their work. Faculty Research Ethics Committees (RECs) have responsibility for establishing and monitoring procedures for approving all research proposals in their faculty. All RECs report to the University Ethics of Research Committee (UERC), in accordance with the Ethics of Research Policy and Procedure.

In accordance with our Research Governance and Integrity Policy, the University does not knowingly collaborate with, or accept any monies from, sources of funding where the aims of the bodies concerned are:

  • illegal under UK law
  • contrary to the research, education or wider aims or objectives of the University.

Investments in organisations operating in the defence sector

We developed the University’s endowment investment policy in consultation with student representatives. It governs how our endowment funds are invested. Adhering to this policy means that all our investments are consistent with our status as a charitable organisation and an institution working for the public good. 

The investment policy includes a specific requirement to make positive investments. It also restricts the University or its agents from investing in entities that:

  • generate more than 10% of turnover from the manufacture of anti-personnel weapons, or
  • have a record of direct involvement in human rights abuses, or
  • have explicit links to such entities.

Why we might invest in entities where up to 10% of turnover might be from manufacture of anti-personnel weapons

Our overriding aim is to have no exposure to arms organisations or organisations involved in in human rights abuses. However, there may be cases where an organisation is involved with primarily civilian technologies which could also have a military application, or where there might otherwise be some ambiguity about how their outputs may be used. 

Our investment managers Rathbone Greenbank Investments

The University appointed Rathbone Greenbank as investment managers for our Endowment Funds in 2017. 

Rathbone Greenbank Investments has a track record of managing ethical and sustainable investments. In addition to the University’s investment policy, they have their own criteria for conducting due diligence on investments before deciding to include them within their investible universe. This is based on both publicly available sources and Rathbones’ own research. 

Before considering an investment for inclusion, Rathbones must satisfy themselves that it does not cause significant social or environmental harms. 

We are in regular discussion with Rathbones and are confident that their approach is sufficiently robust to meet the University’s investment policy requirements . 

Read about our endowment fund management, and see the most recent Portfolio Investment Report.  

Organisations operating in the defence sector at careers events

Organisations operating in the defence sector do not sponsor our careers events.

We let our students know the business area of all organisations attending our careers fairs, including organisations operating in the defence sector.

Many organisations operating in the defence sector usually do much more than arms manufacturing and development. They may provide services and products for defence sector clients but would not be considered first and foremost an ‘arms’ organisation.

Organisations operating in the defence sector are clearly labelled on our careers system, so students know if an organisation works in the sector.

We strive to be impartial and help our students make informed choices around ethical careers and recruitment, and about organisations at our careers events. For example, we work with Windo at all our careers fairs to help students understand the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) credentials of employers.

Student protests at careers events

We provide dedicated areas at all our careers events for students to be able to protest peacefully. 

Where appropriate, we have offered students the opportunity to have their own stand at events to proactively engage other students about their respective missions.    

If you are interested in having a stand at a careers event, contact the careers service.

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