New University Chancellor Director of Arms Company


Helen Alexander, who will take over the role of University Chancellor in July, holds a role on the board of one of Britain’s largest arms companies.

Alexander is listed as a non-executive director with Rolls Royce, a company who produce military jet engines and nuclear reactors. She will take over the role from current Chancellor, Sir John Parker, when his term ends on July 31st.

Another link to the arms industry is likely to anger Southampton based campaigners, already frustrated by the long term strategic partnership the University share with BAE Systems, and the regular presence of arms companies at careers fairs on campus.

The University’s Amnesty group issued a statement saying, “Amnesty as a group are opposed to the role the arms industry plays in causing and exacerbating human rights abuses worldwide. We are disappointed that such a high profile figure within the University should be so intimately linked to the industry, and concerned that it represents another example of this institution condoning an industry which we, as academics, should be against.”

Best known for their luxury cars, Rolls Royce also play an extensive role in the defence industry. Twenty-five percent of military aircraft worldwide receive engines or services from the company, according to figures on their own website. This equipment is exported to an estimated 109 countries worldwide.

After BAE Systems, it is the country’s second largest arms company, with arms sales of nearly £3 billion in the 2010 financial year.

Among many other types of aircraft, Rolls Royce supply the engines for Hawk Jets, which in the past have been used in genocide in East Timor. Hawk Jets have also been exported to Saudi Arabia, and Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe.

Nuclear reactors for submarines used in the controversial Trident missile programme are also constructed by Rolls Royce at their plant in Derby. This has led to the plant being shut down by nuclear disarmament campaigners.

In the 2009/10 financial year, the University recieved £629,000 from Rolls Royce sponsored research, making it one of the most lucrative relationships the Universtiy shares with a private company.

Despite officially recognising the arms trade as unethical, SUSU does not oppose the appointment of the new chancellor. President Billy Fitzjohn did however comment that he hopes the appointment will lead to some “constructive conversations” about their concerns.

The University defended the appointment of Alexander, stating that, “Helen Alexander brings the University a great wealth of experience across a range of business sectors that match the institutional strengths here at Southampton. I am confident that she will be an excellent ambassador for the University and am delighted to welcome her as our next Chancellor.”

Alexander was unveiled as the University’s first female Chancellor in April this year. She is currently President of CBI, the country’s leading lobbying group for big businesses.

The role of Chancellor is largely ceremonial and ambassadorial. She will become the University’s leading lay officer and will preside over degree ceremonies, such as graduation.


Discussion11 Comments

  1. avatar

    “In the 2009/10 financial year, the University recieved £629,000 from Rolls Royce sponsored research, making it one of the most lucrative relationships the Universtiy shares with a private company.”

    A separate issue perhaps, but doesn’t this put her in a conflict of interest?

  2. avatar

    No jokes, but this sounds like something that should have been posted in the SotonTab and not the Wessex Scene.

    You can’t say that she is directly involved in arms deals just because she’s a non-executive director in Rolls Royce. A vast majority of large businesses have ties with the defense industry. The current chancellor, Sir John Parker, was the chairman of the Babcock International Group. This company works closely with the MoD and also have acquired many nuclear submarine facilities over the recent years. But he is also a non-executive chairman of BVT Surface Fleet, which is a merger between BAE and VT Shipbuilding.

    So I don’t think you can justify publishing this article, trying to show the newly appointed Chancellor in a bad light, when the current chancellor is more involved with arms companies. This article seems slightly naive and seems like it’s just trying to kick up a fuss.

    • avatar

      I’ll admit a certain amount of ignorance on my part. I was looking into the new chancellor, and didn’t look at the old one by way of comparison. It would certainly have added a worthwile angle to the article.

      That said, if ‘new chancellor director of arms company’ is a legitimate article, then so is, ‘second successive chancellor intimately involved in arms industry’. The focus changes slightly, but the substantive point doesn’t.

      And rolls royce’s ties with arms go beyond the small levels that a lot of multinationals will have. They are one of the top 20 arms dealers worldwide, and the second largest in the UK.

    • avatar

      I wouldn’t like to say that my uni is benefiting from such sponsorship any more than I would like to say that I was benefiting from prostitution if I was a pimp. The fact that I would be contributing to massive social harm would easily out weigh any monies that I received.

  3. avatar

    Peter, I’m affraid I have a lot of very bad news to tell you.

    Rolls Royce (among others) funds the Uni.
    RR, Babcock and BAE (among others) offer work placements to our students. And they even hold the interviews in our buildings.
    People from RR even come to give us lectures about the engines they put in the new type 45 destroyers in Portsmouth.
    In fact, students in Ship Science even visited one of these type 45 destroyer, courtesy of Royal Navy.
    And I think the mechies visited some RR assembly line.
    We even have some foreign navies students here coming to study how to build more efficient warships.
    Oh, and I forgot, but we also eat babies and rape grandmothers. Or is it the opposite? Can’t remember. But for sure we do eat kit-kats while doing this.

    I’m sure that now that all these sensitive informations are in your hands, you will do your duty and publish them, and I hope the Southampton Uni Amnesty International Society will call for a ban of the whole school of engineering sciences. We probably won’t oppose it, as long as we get access to the Union shop to buy our kit-kats. Actually, we will probably support it since it will allow us to get rid of all these people who want to think in our place.

  4. avatar

    This article is a great way for the new Chancellor to view the Student’s Union!! This should be taken down ASAP. This reflects badly on the Students Union and is not sending out the right signals. Also the fact that there were students from Union Council and from the Sabb team that voted to appoint her at University meetings over Easter and this article, being an official Union media resource, is contradicting this. These facts were known already and she will be an invaluable resource to the University.

    • avatar

      “reflects badly on the Students Union and is not sending out the right signals” – What do you mean by the right signals, and why does the WS need to be tasked with sending out said signals? Why should articles that appear to ‘contradict’ a few UC members not be published?

      Arms companies are an issue which divides students, making this article in the public interest to report on the new Chancellor’s involvements regardless of what some UC members think. Many members of SUSU are concerned about links with arms companies (although many are not), so presuming that this reflects badly on the Union suggests those member’s opinions should be ignored in the name of ‘sending out the right signals’. SUSU and the WS are meant to be democratic resources for students, and refusing to publish articles that many students will find interesting on an issue they care about in order to not upset other people would be (and is) pretty pisspoor.

  5. avatar

    What utter nonense! Why not research her broad interests more thoroughly and then publish a balnced article which reflects the enormous contribution she brings to an outstanding university?

    This article merely reflects your own warped judgement.

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