The Campaign Against the Arms Trade, which has compiled the figures, has called on public bodies to adopt ethical policies and the shares. It has targeted British Aerospace, GEC, GKN, Lucas Varity, Racal, Rolls Royce and Vickers, all major UK arms manufacturers. Among the countries to which the firms ship weapons are Indonesia, Turkey, China and Saudi Arabia, criticised for human rights abuses.
Most of the shares are held by the Universities' Superannuation Scheme, which invests staff pension contributions. It holds about pounds 180m in arms trade investments plus around pounds 125m in British American Tobacco.
However, some universities and colleges have holdings of their own in the arms trade. The biggest investors are the Oxford and Cambridge colleges, which have about pounds 10m in shares between them. The universities of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Glasgow are all listed as owning investments worth more than pounds 1m.
The campaign's report will also list public bodies and charities including the NSPCC, which holds shares in British Aerospace and GEC, smaller children's' charities, health trusts and local authorities.
Rachel Harford, joint co-ordinator of CAAT, said: "How can universities and colleges reconcile their role as promoters of knowledge and understanding with their investments in companies that sell weapons to repressive regimes and fuel arms races around the world?"
Most of the university funds were held for scholarships or pensions and were not taxpayers' money. Several of the universities said their pension trustees were independent and had an obligation to get the best return for their clients' money.
A spokesman for the University of Glasgow, which has shares worth pounds 1.3m in GEC, said institutional investors could not make the same moral judgements as individuals. "It's fine for a group sitting around a table to have high ideals. But if we said, `We have been tremendously ethical but we are dreadfully sorry your pension has fallen,' who would thank us for that?" he said.
However, Sal Brinton, bursar of Selwyn College, Cambridge, said students were working on a proposal for an ethical investment policy. "But the other issue we have to look at is the reduction in income if we decide to go over to an ethical investment policy," she said.
The USS has a policy of not discussing its investments apart from the top 20 it lists in its annual report. However, a spokesman said some of the holdings were in an "index portfolio" which included all the companies in the FT all- share index.Reuse content