In recent months there have been moves by the Union and the student body to ban BAE systems and other defence companies from campus. These have stretched from a referendum to public protests at careers fairs, but is it right to ban such a prominent and valuable graduate employer from campus?
There is no doubting BAE systems is a major employer. They are the single largest private sector employer of professional engineers in the country, as well as being the largest manufacturing based company in the country in terms of the number of people employed. BAE systems also have close links with the University providing many graduate opportunities and research grants. The graduate schemes they offer are second to none and their careers provide an opportunity to work with cutting edge technology that is unavailable elsewhere. For science based graduates this is a very exciting prospect.
Research sponsored by defence companies also provides funding for the University. A study by ‘studywarnomore’ outlined the “military” research that had been undertaken by the University over a five year period. The projects highlighted were not focused on offensive military technology, they ranged from error correction in GPS tracking to fire dynamics and modelling. While there is no doubting that these companies do develop weapons, these university based research projects, are not the offensive weapons development projects they have been made out to be. Instead, they are extremely interesting and important areas of research that not only have applications for defence companies but also for our everyday life. GPS, the microwave, jet engines, many aspects of the internet, radar and air travel are all examples of military research that has seeped through into the civilian world.
As a company, they may have a dubious past and there is work to be done to ensure they adhere to international regulations and practise responsibly but this is the responsibility of international bodies and governments. It is not as if students are going into jobs at defence companies with a mindset of death and destruction. As part of most engineering courses, modules in ethics must be taken in order for the course to be accredited by its respective academic body. These examine the ethical issues of modern day engineering and aim to prepare students for their future jobs by allowing them to make informed decisions on moral and ethical issues.
If, as a university, we start down this road of ethical cleansing where do we stop? Do we ban Apple for its appalling working conditions or the armed forces for their part to play in war and suffering? To many, it would seem that to ban a company such as BAE systems is to take away the free choice of the prospective employee and question their moral integrity. They may think it is their right to work for whomever they please. Surely a handful of students shouldn’t be able to take away career and research opportunities from others who have the right to decide for themselves whether a company is morally unjust or not. The University should pay attention to the opinions and thoughts of those that will actually be affected by such a ban in order to prevent one sided, unfair action.