Universities at Sheffield, Newcastle and Strathclyde have partnered up with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in creating the Future Electrical Machines Manufacturing Hub. The aim is to spur an ‘electrification revolution’ in UK manufacturing while creating PhD projects. They will work alongside a long list of ‘industrial partners’ including Dyson, Rolls Royce, McLaren, Airbus, Siemens-Gamesa, GKN Aerospace.

It is absurd to think that these companies can kick-start an ‘electrification revolution’ funded by profits from the fossil fuel and arms industries in order to stop climate change during such a profound crisis of capitalism and our environment. This initiative to strengthen links between big business and universities is clearly intended to prop up the UK’s collapsing manufacturing industry.

British capitalism is in a desperate state considering the proportion of manufacturing firms looking to recruit has fallen to the lowest rate since 1993 and so it should be no surprise that parasitic capitalists are turning to publicly-funded institutions such as our universities to maintain their profits. Of course, the potential profits for universities in these partnerships have pound signs appearing in Vice-Chancellors’ eyes but students won’t see a penny.

Academia and corporate hypocrisy

The dwindling amount of public funding going into education has led to some universities to plugging their ‘funding gap’ with investments from fossil fuel and arms companies. For instance, in Sheffield they committed to “eliminate exposure to investments linked to explicit environmental damage” by 2016 but 3 years on and they revealed they have invested over £1.5m in companies such as Royal Dutch Shell and Total.

Last year Sheffield became the top university in the UK for income and investment in engineering research. This was achieved by attracting investments from arms dealer Boeing despite protests from students advocating for divestment from fossil fuels and arms companies. Students demand free education and fully funded student services instead of business deals done between VCs and businessmen.

Newcastle University was recently awarded the accolade of the top UK university by Times Higher Education for ‘climate action’ The Times must have overlooked the huge £60m of endowment funds invested last year in fossil fuels by the university and this years’ new partnership with arms dealer Rolls Royce.

Student-worker exploitation

Newcastle say that The Hub will support “30 allied PhDs projects” sponsored by the universities and ‘industrial partners’.  More than likely these will be low-paid scholarships for postgraduate students desperately trying to gain essential research experience on their CV and avoid paying outrageous tuition fees.

In a recent UCU report on the effects of casualisation in further education, it revealed that 70% of respondents said casual contracts had damaged their mental health and a recent YouGov poll revealed that 40% of academics have considered leaving the sector because of the damage to their mental health.

This is unsurprising considering the huge pressure from corporate sponsors for researchers to meet targets – targets set for profit. If researchers do not find satisfactory conclusions then postgraduate scholarships can be cancelled.

In 2012 the NUS reported that a third of postgraduate students earn less than minimum wage and since then these students have not had a substantial payrise. The increasing commercialisation of our universities has allowed huge investment from companies looking to take advantage of seemingly bottomless pits of public funds. But this growing trend of low-paid, precarious and overwhelming workloads in education exists throughout all sectors. In fact 5m workers in the UK are now in low-paid, insecure work according to the Living Wage Foundation. This a reflection of the increasing attacks of big business on workers’ rights in all industries including education and academic research during this crisis of capitalism.

For a socialist revolution to save our planet!

Students and workers reject the presence of fossil fuel companies and arms dealers in our educational institutions. But how can we achieve this? Divesting from big business and kicking corporations off our campuses is a basic demand but students’ unions, the NUS and trade unions must go further and adopt bold socialist policies to truly tackle big business and climate change.

Investments by the university and students’ unions should be decided by elected representatives of students and workers. These people are what keep our universities running and they understand how to run them better than any arms dealer or gas company. We also demand that the largest corporations such as Rolls Royce, Boeing and Dyson are taken into public ownership.

With the unity and backing of the NUS, trade unions and students’ unions for democratic workers’ control of these companies, we can seriously tackle climate change. Only by breaking from capitalism with a rationally-planned socialist economy can we kick these corporations off our campuses once and for all. Fight for socialism to save our planet and our universities!

Stan Laight, Sheffield Marxist Society

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