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Universities are deeply embedded in Australia’s military buildup

The existence of federally-funded research collaborations between Australia and the US is a grave concern.

After Australia announced that it would acquire nuclear-powered submarines in the new AUKUS pact, university leaders quickly stood to attention. Vicki Thomson, Chief Executive of the Group of Eight (Go8) universities pledged to support Australia’s nuclear capabilities, boasting that “Go8 universities have significant defence capability and have built solid defence research partnerships.” 

Indeed, with the government committing $270 billion on defence spending in the next decade as university funding declines, an interdependent relationship has transpired between higher education and defence; the scales tipped in favour of  “national security.” Through a growing amount of federally-backed defence research and “industry collaborations,” universities have become deeply embedded in Australia’s vast military buildup and warmongering with China. 

Over the last five years, there have been significant levels of federal funding directly provided to universities for military-related research. A search of the government grants list shows that since 2016, the Department of Defence has provided nearly $21 million in funding across 15 public universities.

Notably, three universities — Melbourne, Sydney, and Griffith — each received over $3 million as part of the Australia-US Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (AUSMURI), a research project with the US Department of Defence. Established in 2018, the project marks the first time that Australia’s Department of Defence has funded universities to work with US counterparts.

The research topics funded under the project are designated by the Australian defence department out of a list of topics chosen by the US Defense Department. At USyd, AUSMURI is funding research into additive manufacturing (3D printing) which, although having important applications in other fields, is being used by the US military to build combat vehicles and bunkers faster and cheaper. At UniMelb, AUSMURI grants have been funnelled into research on autonomous vehicles which, in the words of the University, is “critical in enhancing capabilities to execute [ground, sea and aerial] missions.” 

The existence of federally-funded research collaborations between Australia and the US is a grave concern. The US is the most destructive and violent global power in history, its bombs and armed forces having killed hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade. And now, with heightened tensions between the US and China, the potential humanitarian and environmental costs of expanding defence capabilities are beyond belief.

The militarisation of academic research is not confined to the natural sciences; social science research is also being utilised to support Australia’s defence policy objectives. Twelve universities have received almost $10 million in combined funding as part of the Strategic Policy Grants Program (SPGP), which supports research used to inform Australian defence policy.

This research must align with Australia’s “priority interests.” It is no surprise then, that since its inception in 2019, much of the research conducted under this program dovetails with anti-China warmongering: strategic policy for the Asia-Pacific, combatting cyber-enabled foreign interference, and economic warfare with China amongst others. 

Department of Defence grants to public universities

Grant activityValue (AUD)Recipient nameStart dateEnd date
Australia-United States Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative$3,300,000.00University of Melbourne9/17/20195/31/2022
Australia-United States Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative$3,300,000.00University of Sydney - Australia-United States Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (AUSMURI)6/1/20186/1/2021
Australia-United States Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative$3,297,181.80Griffith University - Australia-United States Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (AUSMURI)6/1/20186/1/2021
Strategic Policy Grant independent research$51,602.32Deakin University - Dr Guan5/28/20216/30/2022
Strategic Policy Grants$147,110.00Flinders University - Rodrigo Praino6/5/20207/30/2021
Strategic Policy Grants$137,930.85Flinders University - Rob Manwaring6/5/20208/31/2021
Strategic Policy Grant independent research$257,757.50University of Tasmania5/27/20213/31/2022
Strategic Policy Grant independent research$132,852.50Edith Cowan University6/3/20216/30/2022
Strategic Policy Grant independent research$265,120.65University of Newcastle5/26/20219/30/2023
Strategic Policy Grant$125,877.51Flinders University (Star)5/17/20193/31/2021
Strategic Policy Grant$133,532.30Macquarie University (Gill)3/12/20193/12/2020
Strategic Policy Grant$31,395.98University of Adelaide (Liu)5/2/20195/2/2020
Strategic Policy$179,127.30Griffith University (O' Neil)6/4/20216/30/2022
Strategic Policy Grant independent research$164,824.00University of Wollongong5/25/20218/31/2022
Strategic Policy Grant independent research$192,606.70Deakin University (Dr Roose)5/28/20216/30/2022
Strategic Policy Grant$134,650.45Flinders University (Leuprecht)5/23/20196/30/2020
Strategic Policy Grant independent research$59,258.10Macquarie University - Prof Tan6/1/20219/30/2022
Strategic Policy$78,313.00Australian National University - Brendan Taylor5/28/20216/30/2022
Strategic Policy Grants Program (SPGP)$84,402.60Macquarie University - Dr Adam Lockyer6/9/202012/15/2021
Strategic Policy Grant$195,673.01Monash University - Katrina Lee-Koo6/10/20207/30/2022
Strategic Policy Grant$255,610.00University of Adelaide - Joanne Wallis6/10/202010/31/2022
Strategic Policy Grants$120,905.40Edith Cowan University - Andrew Dowse6/5/20209/30/2021
Strategic Policy Grants$130,361.00Edith Cowan University - Andrew Dowse6/5/20209/30/2021
Strategic Policy Grant$998,382.68Australian National University - Anthea Roberts6/9/20208/30/2023
Strategic Policy Grants$121,115.01Monash University - Maria Post Rublee6/25/202011/30/2020
Strategic Policy$225,246.00Australian National University (Llewelyn Hughes)6/10/20216/30/2023
Strategic Policy Grants$97,950.00Edith Cowan University - Pi-Shen Seet6/5/20209/30/2021
Strategic Policy Grants$123,604.80University of Adelaide - Prof Melissa de Zwart6/20/202012/31/2021
Strategic Policy Grant$98,094.00University of Sydney - Dr Aim Sinpeng6/9/20207/30/2021
Strategic Policy Grant$792,000.00University of Sydney (United States Studies Centre)7/1/20196/30/2021
Strategic Policy Grants$1,336,500.00University of Western Australia - Laurence Coleman6/8/20206/15/2023
Defence Research and Policy$120,000.00University of Adelaide - Woomera Manual Project - (MILAMOS)7/1/20166/30/2019
Strategic Policy Grant$408,518.00University of New South Wales (UNSW) Baker8/29/20196/30/2022
Strategic Policy Grant$79,530.00University of New South Wales (UNSW) McLaughlin10/8/20193/31/2020
Strategic Policy Grant$199,547.70Australian National University (Strategic and Defence Studies Centre) (Coleman)7/18/20196/30/2020
Strategic Policy Grants Program (SPGP) 2019-20$137,093.00Griffith University, Griffith Asia Institute - Prof Ian Hall6/4/202011/30/2021
Strategic Policy Grant$211,280.00Australian National University (Strategic and Defence Studies Centre) - Evelyn Goh6/9/20207/31/2022
Strategic Policy Grant$65,054.00University of New South Wales (UNSW) - Tristan Moss6/12/202011/30/2021
Strategic Policy Grant$304,839.00Australian National University (National Security College) - (Dr Jennifer Hunt)5/1/20194/30/2021
Strategic Policy Grant$38,773.00Australian National University (Strategic and Defence Studies Centre) (Greg Raymond)5/8/20195/8/2020
Strategic Policy Grants Program (SPGP)$450,000.00University of Sydney - (United States Studies Centre) - Ashley Townshend7/29/202011/30/2022
Strategic Policy Grants Program (SPGP)$610,277.97University of New South Wales (UNSW) - Dr Jai Galliott6/30/202012/31/2023
Strategic Policy Grant$214,467.00Australian National University (Strategic and Defence Studies Centre) (Fruehling)5/16/20195/16/2020
Strategic Outreach$98,707.00University of New South Wales (UNSW) - The Boxwood Scenarios - David Heslop8/10/20208/8/2022
Strategic Policy Grant$110,000.00Australian National University - Aus Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP)8/28/20196/30/2020
Strategy, Policy and Industry$1,371,848.00Australian National University (Strategic and Defence Studies Centre) (Professor Evelyn Goh)7/1/20196/30/2025

Source: GrantConnect, 2021

What’s more concerning is the Australian government’s strong hand in facilitating partnerships between universities and the private defence sector. The majority of universities’ defence research occurs through the Defence Science Partnerships (DSP) program, which provides a uniform model for research and strategic “collaborations.” Today, every public university has signed onto the DSP.

A 2019 Defence Capabilities report by Go8 disclosed that Lockheed Martin — the largest arms manufacturing company in the world — has collaborated with four of the Go8 universities. Other major weapons manufacturers that have partnered with the Go8 universities include BAESystems, Thales, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Airbus (which also creates military aerospace products). 

Collaborations between universities and the private defence industry raise serious ethical concerns. These companies, the majority of which are US-based, profit from supplying the arms and military infrastructure used in devastating armed attacks. Combat aircraft produced by Boeing and bombs made by Lockheed Martin, for example, have been used for civilian strikes in Yemen. Notably, BAESystems is the company that manufactures nuclear-powered submarines for the UK, which is set to do the same for Australia.

The DSP has also opened the doors for increased partnerships between universities and armed forces. Funding from the likes of the Australian Army has made possible the establishment of Deakin’s Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation, which in April became the first tertiary institution in Australia to host zone 4 classified, secret-rated defence research. Other Go8 partners include the Royal Australian Air Force and Navy as well as the US Army and Air Force.

A number of universities, including La Trobe and UNSW, have also created scholarships for students to participate in defence research.

New changes to the DSP came into effect last year, providing greater “flexibility” in these arrangements, which will allow more future defence collaborations. Chief Defence Scientist Tanya Monro has made it clear that university research is being subordinated to defence needs, declaring that public universities provide a “mechanism” for “harnessing the skills, talents and expertise…to deliver the best possible outcomes for Defence and Australia more broadly.” 

Along with corporatisation and austerity measures, universities’  increasing role in Australian defence is yet another signifier of how far higher education has deteriorated. It is not enough to simply oppose university “ties” with military and defence, given that higher education is so ingrained within the broader defence ecosystem; we must instead call for an end to state militarism. As Australia beats the drum of war with China, students especially must take inspiration from anti-war movements of the past and raise our voices against it.