STEM students at the University of Edinburgh are banding together in protest of a recently passed Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA) council motion to ban arms companies from careers fairs on moral grounds.
Alleging that the motion is prejudicial to their career opportunities and unrepresentative of broader student views, the students have taken to petitions and online polls to air their dissatisfaction.
Last month, an online survey was circulated around the School of Engineering, polling students about their reactions to the motion. Of 100 respondents, 80 disagreed with the motion, with 66 saying it would have at least a moderate effect on their careers. 72 said they didn’t know the motion had passed at all.
Students expressed their frustration in anonymous comments affixed to the poll.
“It is not the place of EUSA to dictate what careers are appropriate for graduates,” said one respondent.
Another said: “It’s a ludicrous motion put forward by someone with no connection to engineering and therefore no knowledge of its repercussions.”
“Both Edinburgh University and EUSA should be banned from careers fairs,” another concluded.
In a subsequent email seen by The Student, Wayne Chang, Vice-Convener of the Engineering School, vowed not to observe the motion.
“Many of you do not agree with the motion and do not hope to see it employed,” the email read.
“Therefore, we, as your school convenors, will not recognise the motion that EUSA has passed. We will continue to work closely with the Career’s Service to ensure companies have fair representation at Career’s Fairs.”
A subsequent online petition calling on EUSA to overturn the motion had 25 signatures at time of print.
Titled “Say No to Arms”, the motion was proposed by Hannah Roques and backed by the activist organisation People & Planet, as part of the group’s broader campaign to seek university divestment from arms companies. Speaking in response to the criticism, People & Planet representative Ellie Jones said that the motion had a long precedence in student politics.
“It’s worth noting that this isn’t a new stance for EUSA, it’s now just official policy,” she told The Student. “For years EUSA sabbs have lobbied the University that there shouldn’t be arms or fossil fuel companies at the careers fair and this has always been supported by students.
“Our student union and University should be supporting students to access good, sustainable jobs within the engineering industry. If we’re in a situation where lots of these jobs are with arms companies responsible for war crimes and fuelling conflicts then it’s clear we need to be lobbying the government and University to be investing in alternative industries to create other jobs.”
The motion was voted into policy after a 45-20 vote at the first student council of the year, in a meeting open to the student body. But Kings Building (KB) students criticised the process as unrepresentative.
“Students at KB feel isolated and un-engaged,” Ihab Jameel, Convener for the School of Engineering told The Student.
“There is little effort by EUSA to address this. As a result, any discussion that EUSA has in Central tends to be unheard of by students at KB, and usually only involves the most politically minded students.”
Jameel argued that more should have been done to raise awareness about the motion before it went to a vote.
“It was unfair as those who tabled the motion should have actively engaged with those students most affected by the motion before even writing it. But I understand this is not how politics works, and I am no politician.”
The decision to “not recognise” the motion, if followed through, would put the Engineering School in a questionable position constitutionally.
Part 11, subsection iii of the EUSA Democracy Regulations states that “School Councils shall not be politically autonomous and shall not have policy which contradicts Association policy.” The consequences of doing so are not made clear.
But Jameel insisted the action announced by his Vice-Convener was not contravening regulations.
“Our position is to simply not act,” he told The Student. “We will neither apply it nor act against it, so this should not affect EUSA policy.”
Speaking for People & Planet on the frustration with the democratic process, Jones said: “We agree that that EUSA should always be doing more to ensure that student council is well attended and that all students are fully aware of the motions that are going to be debated.”
EUSA president Jonny Ross-Tatam also voiced sympathy.
“None of us four sabbatical officers view the Student Council as satisfactory,” he told The Student. “We don’t feel like it’s always representative of students and what students think.”
He added: “It’s good to see the Engineering conveners are going out and finding out what their students think, and I think I really welcome it.”
A review of the current democratic structures is underway within EUSA, with alternative solutions set to be put to referendum next March.
Image: Flickr: “kaysgeog”