Rage against the (war) machine: Students blast SA uni defence ties

A student union is calling on South Australian universities to cut ties with defence industry companies, as the University of Adelaide pens a new partnership with a major firm.

Aug 08, 2023, updated Jan 30, 2024

As part of a National Union of Students campaign, University of Adelaide students will on Wednesday protest their institution’s ties to defence companies, turbocharged by the AUKUS submarines pact.

The University of Adelaide last week signed a Memorandum of Understanding with engineering contractor Babcock Australasia “to support the biggest and most ambitious defence agenda in the nation’s history”.

“Babcock and the University of Adelaide will work together on developing Australia’s defence workforce and skills through new initiatives and projects to support current defence programs and the AUKUS program, including the delivery of the nation’s first nuclear-powered submarines,” the university said.

“The MoU will serve as the guiding framework, between the University of Adelaide and Babcock to work together on new talent attraction and development to support defence and national security and realise the potential presented by AUKUS.”

The NUS will protest across the country tomorrow, with University of Adelaide student Ellie Hall saying the message is simple: “Demilitarise our campus”.

university of adelaide student ellie hall

University of Adelaide student Ellie Hall. Photo: David Simmons/InDaily

“They want to accept money from these merchants of death who want to funnel students into all of these defence companies,” Hall said.

“This is obviously not what students come to university to study; you come to university wanting to change the world and instead you’re funnelled towards building all of these weapons.

“We think that that’s rotten. We think that education should be whatever you want to study, it shouldn’t be a place of being funnelled into defence.”

NUS national education officer Xavier Dupé said that AUKUS agreements were coaxing students into STEM disciplines to build nuclear-submarine capability in South Australia.

“This is nothing new for Flinders University, University of South Australia or University of Adelaide. Between them, they have, or have recently had, ties to BAE Systems, Thales, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and SAAB Systems and more,” Dupé said.

L-R: Deputy Vice-Chancellor (External Engagement) Dr Jessica Gallagher; Babcock CEO Andrew Cridland; University of Adelaide Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Peter Høj AC and Babcock Managing Director AUKUS & International Sir Nick Hine KCB. Photo: University of Adelaide.

L-R: Deputy Vice-Chancellor (External Engagement) Dr Jessica Gallagher; Babcock CEO Andrew Cridland; University of Adelaide Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Peter Høj AC and Babcock Managing Director AUKUS & International Sir Nick Hine KCB. Photo: University of Adelaide.

The Babcock MoU is the latest defence industry deal signed by the University of Adelaide, which has partnerships with BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin and scholarships funded by Boeing Defence Australia and Naval Group,  while submarine firm ASC delivers a post-graduate program, Master in Marine Engineering.

The university also has its own Defence and Security Institute where academics research fields including photonics, machine learning and ionospheric physics. The Lot Fourteen-based body is led by Professor Michael Webb, formerly of the Defence Science and Technology Group and a recipient of the Australian Operational Service Medal for his leadership of a military and civilian team in the Middle East.

On the University of Adelaide’s board is Andrew Keough, the current managing director of defence giant SAAB and the former chief executive of Defence SA.

In a statement sent to InDaily, a University of Adelaide spokesperson said students were “supported to pursue whatever pathways that will help them achieve their career goals”.

“Many students excel in their chosen fields and become future leaders who aim to find solutions to the challenges facing society including keeping our nation safe in increasingly uncertain times,” the statement said. 

“The University of Adelaide works in partnership with defence and industry to develop innovative technologies that help improve our nation’s sovereign defence capability.

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“The defence sector is a key employer in South Australia which is supported by the Federal Government’s commitment to multi-million-dollar programs such as the Defence Trailblazer which is led by the University of Adelaide in partnership with UNSW.”

The university said courses were co-created with industry so students could have the experience necessary for their chosen field.

“The University’s Master of Marine Engineering, which includes a focus on shipbuilding and submarine design, was co-created with industry. Many students enrolled in the program are already employed in the defence sector,” the statement said.

“Research undertaken at the University which focuses on helping people who serve in the defence forces can be applied to other vital operations, such as emergency services and law enforcement.

“We are committed to ensuring that the University of Adelaide builds and maintains the research skills, infrastructure, commercialisation and knowledge transfer abilities required to continue contributing to the defence of our nation and the peace and prosperity of our region.”

Flinders University counts Naval Group as a research partner and Northrop Grumman sponsors a scholarship for IT, computer science or AI studies to “encourage the recipients to consider a career in Defence”, and recently partnered with the Universities of Manchester and Rhode Island to begin “delivering a comprehensive suite of the world’s best nuclear education in South Australia as early as 2023”.

Uni SA lists defence partnerships with BAE Systems, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, SAAB and Babcock. Earlier this year, the SA Government partnered with Uni SA and Ai Group to establish a software engineering degree apprenticeship to prepare students for defence careers.

“With the merger coming up, they’re looking for more corporate investment and weapons companies have always been a big source for that,” Hall said.

“You walk through any careers fair that the university holds and all you can see are all these different defence companies and the ADF keenly waiting for students to pass by.”

University of Adelaide Vice-Chancellor Peter Høj said that partnerships with the likes of Babcock represent “shared objectives” and “contribute to the growth and expertise of Australia’s defence industry”.

“Babcock is an eminent force in the defence industry with extensive experience in naval strategy and submarine operations,” he said.

“Working closely together will help address the complexities in defence skills and workforce in preparation for the greatest manufacturing opportunity of our time.”

The Office for AUKUS is a $5.4 million investment for the state government and will prepare SA to build nuclear-powered submarines at Osborne. It is estimated that more than 8,000 jobs will be created through the local construction of the subs over the coming 30 years.

Earlier this year, Premier Peter Malinauskas said the state government would connect Lot Fourteen, Tonsley and Adelaide BioMed City to “capitalise on AUKUS opportunities” which would “transform South Australia’s economy for generations”.

The AUKUS cooperation agreement between the state and federal government will increase Commonwealth-supported places at SA universities by 800, focused on STEM disciplines.

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