SA universities tie themselves to weapons of mass destruction

Take a plane to Adelaide and you’ll be greeted at the airport with a billboard advertising the University of Adelaide’s Masters of Marine Engineering and the promise of a future career in submarines, shipbuilding and defence.

Take a taxi to the University of South Australia’s open day and you can attend an information session about careers in defence. Or peruse the Flinders University website and read about “a day very soon when we have unmanned warships patrolling our 132,000 kilometres of coastline. We [at Flinders University] are developing that capability now”.

All three South Australian universities have dirty ties with the world’s largest weapons companies and the militaries they supply. All are members of the Joint Open Innovation Network run by BAE Systems, one of the world’s largest arms companies. BAE Systems has invested $10 million in the network to create more defence-focused courses and research.

Over the past two years, Flinders University has signed memoranda of understanding with weapons giants Fincantieri, Northrop Grumman, Thales and BAE Systems, one of which involves work on the Joint Strike Fighter program (an international program to upgrade fighter, strike and ground attack aircraft).

The University of South Australia’s Defence and Systems Institute (DASI) is the largest of its kind in Australia, offering degrees and research developed in collaboration with arms companies.

Through DASI, these companies have become part of the university structure, with students in science, technology, engineering and maths undertaking placements the Saab Australia-UniSA Defence Technologies Institute.

On DASI’s advisory board sit representatives of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, BAE Systems and SAAB Systems, as well as government representatives from Defence SA and the Defence Science and Technology Organisation. DASI also collaborates with the US military, the US Army Research Laboratory being a partner of the institute.

This turn toward the arms industry is also highlighted by the sharing of personnel between military and university administrations. Jim McDowell, the recently appointed Chancellor of UniSA, is a case in point. McDowell was CEO of BAE Systems Australia from 2001 to 2011 and CEO of BAE Systems Saudi Arabia from 2011 to 2013.

Last year, UniSA hired a former army officer and head of industry engagement for Saab Australia, Matt Opie, to guide university strategy for the defence sector.

“I’ll be dedicated to improving the way university research and industry collaboration can develop and deliver what the Australian Defence Force needs”, he said.

Flinders University has similar sordid ties. Since 2012, Christine Zeitz has been a member of the chief decision-making body at the university. Zeitz spent 25 years working for BAE Systems and has been vice-president of Lockheed Martin since 2015.

These companies are even making their way into schools. Lockheed Martin runs an “Engineers in the Classroom” program, and Raytheon and the Australian Submarine Corporation, as part of the Air Warfare Destroyer Alliance, have developed curriculum for the Maritime High School of South Australia at Le Fevre High School.

It’s appalling that murderous corporations have such power in our education system. Plenty of things should take research priority, including better transport, life-saving medical treatments and sustainable energy.

But as long as military corporations buy our universities and graduates, research into death and destruction will be the order of the day.