Companies involved in the manufacturing of arms are set to be banned from Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA) venues, after attendees of last week’s student council meeting voted in support of the motion “Say no to Arms”.
The motion, raised at the first student council meeting last Thursday, passed 45-20, with five abstentions.
Its aim was to mandate EUSA to “stop providing a platform to arms companies on campus.” It called for companies to be disallowed from appearing at careers fairs and being represented at any University or EUSA associated events.
Hannah Roques, the speaker for the motion, said that allowing arms companies like BAE Systems into careers fairs gave them “moral legitimacy”.
She also argued that STEM and finance students are over-represented at careers fairs, adding that removing the arms companies from the field would give space to other students at these events.
Speaking against the motion, Sam Henderson, student convener of School of Physics, said that arms companies are important providers of internships and graduate jobs for STEM students.
He added that it would be very difficult to find these opportunities outside of careers fairs.
“This threatens our livelihoods”, he argued in his opposition speech.
The proposer of the motion countered that STEM students could seek out the companies through other means that did not involve the University or EUSA.
Concern was also raised about the semantics of the proposer’s position.
One questioner asked whether a distinction would be drawn between exclusive arms companies and those that deal in arms as part of a wider business model.
The proposer responded that it would not, saying she “questioned the premise” of the idea of there being ethical companies involved in arms.
Speaking to The Student after the meeting, Roques, an activist with People and Planet, expressed satisfaction with the results.
“I’m really pleased that it passed”, she said.
“I hope the University takes note of this decision and that they stop letting arms companies into the careers fair. I know many students were upset about that”
She added: “I’m a little surprised it was as controversial as it was. I would have hoped less people voted against it.”
Henderson, the opponent and physics convener, characterised the motion’s passing as an unwise precedent.
He told The Student: “It’s a long and winding trail if they do ban because there’s lots of unethical companies and unethical divisions of companies; you could ban investment companies.”
“Most students are mature enough to make their own decision,” he added.
Tobias Seeger, an audience member who asked a critical question of the proposer, said the result was unfair.
“It’s easy to disagree with arms”, he told The Student after the vote.
“I personally disagree with arms. But as a university, employability should be one of our aims. Even though I personally disagree…I think we should leave students the option of choosing their path; there should be freedom of choice.”
Roques said that she heard the concerns of STEM students, but that other options were available.
“I’m obviously aware of the issues and I do understand peoples’ concerns, especially in the job climate that we have today, but I also feel that there are a lot of other places for people to go to get that kind of thing”, she said in response to the criticism.
She continued: “It’s definitely a big issue: for engineering students a lot of the main jobs presented to them in careers fairs or just in general is arms and fossil fuels. And I’d be really interested to work with people in Geosciences and Engineering to see if other opportunities for engineering students could be made available that aren’t in arms or fossil fuels.”
The council saw two other motions brought to vote: one on a photo campaign run by the University Feminist Society, and another on opposing the government’s Prevent Strategy.
Both motions passed handily with no speakers against.
In the first, the Feminist Society requested EUSA to support the campaign through encouraging student participation, and displaying posters of the photographs in EUSA venues.
The campaign was chosen because it “challenges the negative connotations” around feminism and is highly accessible, said Chloe Marvin, a Feminist Society committee member and speaker for the motion.
Concerns were raised that the campaign may be used to express messages undermining feminism.
Speaking to The Student Marvin said that “we’d be allowing people to approach us about the campaign” and the images being moderated wouldn’t leave any space for this to happen.
The motion passed 76-4.
The third motion – “preventing prevent” – was designed to give EUSA the mandate to take whatever possible methods to try and block, or reduce, the government’s Prevent Scheme’s impact on campus.
Encouraging lobbing the University to be transparent about their use of these types of counter-terrorism initiative, and to publicly oppose Prevent as an institution.
It also proposed that EUSA work more closely with the BME liberation group to help combat the Prevent strategy.
Speaking for the motion, Shuwanna Aaron, the BME Liberation Convener argued that Prevent “mandates the marginalisation of Muslim students”.
There were no speakers against the motion. It passed 61-4.
In a closing remark to The Student, EUSA Vice President Services Urte Macikene said she was “pleased with the motions that were submitted and [that] people seemed engaged” with the democratic process.