PalSoc students mounted a protest outside the Technology Careers Fair this month, demanding the University change its policies on allowing arms manufacturers to recruit graduates and offer work placements.
An online petition created by students from the Palestinian Solidarity Society (PalSoc) accuses BAE Systems, Thales and Qinetiq of “war crimes”.
It calls for the introduction of compulsory ethics modules in engineering and computer science degrees, and for the University to end all research that is funded by weapons manufacturers.
PalSoc members demonstrated just outside the Physics Department, where the fair was held, while inside BAE Systems signed up about 60 students for a ‘cyber challenge’ later that week.
PalSoc Chair Habib Nassar said: “We’re trying to send a message and inform students what it means to work for companies like BAE, Thales and Qinetiq.”
BAE Systems manufacture equipment used on Israeli F16 aircraft, which have bombed areas of Palestine and Lebanon.
Thales is involved in the production of the Watchkeeper unmanned drone, which was allegedly “field tested” by killing Palestinians in Gaza.
“What the university don’t tell students is that the work they do with these companies, and the internships they get, will ultimately lead to the sale of weapons, jets or drones to oppressive regimes who will use them to kill innocent civilians,” Nassar said.
In the past BAE have also been accused of bribing Saudi and Chilean officials, and hiring a security contractor to collect information about anti-nuclear protesters.
The Careers department did give PalSoc a stand at the fair, where members talked to students about the arms companies who were attending.
But Nassar wanted “the university to give us a presence at all technology careers fairs, better than the one they gave us today.”
According to eyewitnesses one graduate recruiter left the careers fair early which the university insists “is not unusual.”
Nassar said: “Thales left early because they felt intimidated by us.
“However, we never harrased or intimidated them as that wasn’t our aim – our aim was to raise awareness about what the company does and who it deals with.
“Also, security at the event reassured us that we didn’t harass them or do anything wrong.”
Third year Jack Mehmet, who is currently on a placement at BAE Systems, said he was not in a “well informed position” when he accepted their offer.
”A small module on ethics in electronics given at that time of the year would’ve been very helpful,” he said.
“I think it is the responsibility of the department to make clear what people are signing up for and what their work could potentially be funding.”
York councillor Andy D’Agorne, signing the petition, said: “We need to help our talented young people to use their skills averting climate change, and creating a better more humane future.
“They need to be aware of ethical options not fed lies about illegal technology and arms sales.”
“The University has research links with a wide range of companies, including firms such as BAE Systems, which as the largest manufacturing company in the UK has major interests in both the defence and avionics sectors,” they said in a statement.
“The Palestinian Solidarity Society is, of course, welcome to express its views on these links via petitions and other mechanisms.”
When asked to comment on the event by York Vision, David Duncan, Registrar and Secretary, said: “It is not unusual for participants in careers fairs to leave a little early, especially if they feel they have already done a lot of useful business.
“Student attendance at the last three recruitment fairs was up 21% on last year, which is very encouraging.
“The three defence-related companies – BAE Systems, Thales and Qinetiq – all attracted a good deal of interest and will I am sure want to participate in future careers events on campus.
“A number of academic units do indeed undertake research work and consultancy for companies which have interests in the defence sector, including BAE Systems, which is the largest manufacturing company in the UK. Likewise, the University engages with the Ministry of Defence, as it does with a range of other government departments.”