Two months ago, the ANUSA Environment Collective commenced a campaign demanding that the ANU end its network of academic partnerships with weapons companies. The petition, which currently has over 600 signatures, targets the University’s ties with Northrop Grumman. 

The Northrop Grumman scholarship, among the most prestigious of the ANU’s financial awards, grants penultimate and final year students studying a Bachelor of Advanced Computing (Honours) or Bachelor of Advanced Computing (Honours)(R&D), a total of eighteen thousand dollars. There are currently only three offers for this scholarship. 

Northrop Grumman is the third largest weapons manufacturer in the world, worth approximately $70 billion USD. The manufacturer and its ties to the University have become a focal point of criticism from pro-Palestinian activists on campus. According to the Environment Collective, much of its net worth has come from “the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Gaza”. Their claim is simple: the ANU, through its financial affiliations with arms providers, is complicit in the immense suffering these companies inflict. 

The Collective’s petition states: 

“Northrop Grumman has close ties with the Israeli military, supplying it with a plethora of weapons, including various missile systems, and key components for its fighter jets, missile ships, and trainer aircraft. Notably, Northrop Grumman supplies Israel with key components of the F-35 fighter jet, which are currently being used to brutally massacre Palestinians.”

ANU’s academic ties with renowned weapons manufacturers are symptomatic of a broader prevalence of military investment in Australia’s higher education sector. In just a five-year period, the Department of Defence has given educational institutions upwards of $21 million for various military projects. While federal funding for tertiary education has wavered in recent years, the largest federal investment into higher education in last year’s budget was to support AUKUS scholarships through Commonwealth supported places in science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses. This year’s budget also dedicated $101.8 million over seven years to continue the delivery of conventionally-armed, nuclear power submarines. 

This article probes the extent of Australian academia’s defence partnerships, as well as the potential ethical and practical consequences of such military entanglements.

Defence Australia facilitates its partnerships with higher education through the Defence Science and Universities Network, which brings together Australia’s researchers in higher education for “promoting and growing defence engagement”. Among its bilateral research agreements are partnerships with private entities through its Defence Science Partnership (DSP), including Lockheed Martin, Thales, and Northrop Grumman. The DSP encapsulates the majority of Defence’s association with universities, with every public university in Australia a party to the network. 

Beyond being involved in Australia’s federal defence research, the ANU is the eighth member of the Defence Innovation Network, an initiative under the Defence Science and Technology Group to enhance New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory’s defence industry capabilities. Nine universities in Australia are members of the network and thus contribute to research efforts for the defence sector for “Australia and its closest allies”. In this effort, the ANU leverages its research capability in AI, space research, and nuclear science for military innovation. The latter of which has attracted criticism through campaigns such as the  Welfare not Warfare campaign. 

Along with its scholarships, the ANU has partners across private industry for internship agreements. As of 2021, the University has offered a Cyber Intern Analyst position for some of its students at Lockheed Martin. Beyond being the primary arms supplier for the Israeli Defence Force, Lockheed Martin has been criticised for its connection to humanitarian law violations in Yemen, as well as for providing arms to Saudi Arabia, who were responsible for bombing a bus full of school children in August of 2018 with Lockheed Martin weaponry. 

All three of these companies are closely connected to war efforts in the Middle East. Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, both of whom have scholarship awards at the ANU, provide weapons and military technology to Israel

These partnerships and collaborations between the ANU and weapons manufacturers have been met with opposition on campus. Among its many opponents are Students and Staff Against War (SSAW), a collective that has been protesting the ANU’s involvement with arms manufacturers. 

In April, SSAW released a media statement revealing that the ANU holds financial stocks in weapons companies, and notably increased its holdings between October 6th and 31st last year. The ANU’s investments in Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Boeing fall just under $500,000. According to the University’s annual report 2022, the ANU’s total investments come to roughly 43 million dollars. 

The disclosure log reveals that as of October of last year, the University held $143,000 worth of stocks in Boeing, $273,000 in Lockheed Martin, and over $50,000 in Northrop Grumman. Woroni asked the ANU how their investment decisions are made, particularly how it enforces socially responsible investments. We were directed to their socially responsible investment policy

The ANU’s policy statement concedes that the University will aim to “avoid investment opportunities considered to be likely to cause substantial social injury” and “positively promote investment in securities, companies, trusts and other entities that support socially beneficial outcomes.” The investment decisions should also “acknowledge the existence of competing social goods and choose to invest where the greatest return is achievable for the greatest social good.” 

However, whether Israel’s current military siege in Gaza, which has amassed over 34,000 Palestinians deaths, in addition to the International Court of Justice’s finding that it is plausible that Israel’s action’s amount to genocide, is viewed as a substantial social injury under this policy remains unclear. Indeed, much of the University’s policies remain opaque in that manner. 

An ANU spokesperson told Woroni that, “All ANU partnerships and scholarships are covered by University policy and are expected to align with the University’s values and interests.” The University noted that, “All coursework scholarships, grants and bursaries (‘student financial awards’) offered within ANU go through an approval process to ensure they are in alignment with the ANU Student Financial Awards Policy.”

However, for students like Finnian, these investments and scholarships means that his University “facilitates Israel’s slaughter and mass starvation in Gaza.” 

Finnian, who is a member of SSAW, told Woroni, “The International Court of Justice has stated that there is a plausible case Israel is engaging in genocide or genocidal acts. Our universities must not be complicit in genocide.”  

SSAW’s press release came after an intense week of pro-Palestinian protests across the globe. On April 17, the Gaza solidarity encampment was erected at Columbia University in light of Columbia’s military partnerships which aid Israel. Most recently, the Columbia camp was shut down by the New York Police Department upon direct orders from university president Minouche Shafik, marking the first time Columbia administration called the police to suppress a campus protest since 1968. 

The ANU is no stranger to students demonstrating against its known military associations. In 2023, the ANU was the subject of numerous protests demanding that the Federal Government end its alleged warmongering with China, and cease its research partnerships with Defence concerning the University’s strong support for AUKUS

Columbia’s protest sparked protest camps on multiple campuses in the US and elsewhere, including Kambri almost three weeks ago. Around 30 to 40 protesters continue to occupy the Kambri lawns demanding that the ANU cut ties with weapons companies that fund Israel. It is yet to be seen whether the ANU concedes to their demands.

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