A college in Luton has “suspended” all activities with a defence firm over its involvement in the Israel and Palestine conflict following pressure from students.
Luton Sixth Form College (LSFC), which teaches over 3,000 16 to 18-year-olds, released a statement this week announcing it would cut ties with Leonardo, an Italian engineering firm that manufactures aircraft parts with a global presence in 26 countries.
The move is thought to be the first of its kind by a college in England in response to the humanitarian crisis in the occupied territory of Gaza.
The college said the “extent of its relationship” with Leonardo extends to the company’s attendance at careers and jobs fairs and providing work experience for STEM students.
“We are currently reviewing our position with it in conjunction with Luton Borough Council and other schools and colleges,” the statement said. “All further activities with Leonardo will be suspended until further notice.”
Numerous protests at Leonardo factories have taken place over the years across the UK, most recently at its sites in Edinburgh and Southampton over the company’s links to the Israeli military.
A college student group accused the college of providing a “limited account” of Leonardo’s involvement with LSFC students.
“Many students have [been] sent to engage with Leonardo through the ‘Industrial Cadets Gold Project’, as well as the ‘Robot Wars’ and ‘Rampaging Chariots’ initiative,” the student group said responding to the college statement on Wednesday.
Leonardo has had a presence in Luton since 2003 and employs around 1,000 people. The company has been a big proponent of skills education. According to its early career opportunities brochure, it has a “strategic partnership” with colleges and universities for work and summer placements and hires engineering apprentices, with off-the-job training provided by local colleges.
Leonardo also hosts a STEM-based ‘Rampaging Chariots’ tournament in the
area. Luton Sixth Form College students have participated in the competition since at least 2012. LSFC students have also previously been mentored by Leonardo engineers, according to local reports.
The move by the college follows calls from the student body there, who led a protest drawing hundreds of students on November 17, the same day that school pupils across the country walked out to protest the bombing of Gaza.
Last week, the student council sent an open letter to the college leadership team demanding it cut its partnership with Leonardo “immediately” and allow students to fundraise humanitarian aid for Gazans.
The college responded that it has organised fundraising events, including hosting a charity event on December 15, collaborating with local organisations such as Luton Foodbank, Discover Islam, and Human Appeal.
“As a college community, our hearts are heavy as we witness the suffering of innocent people and we stand together, united in our commitment to peace, compassion, and understanding.
“With that in mind, we have planned a number of initiatives including a Fundraising Week and Luton Peace Celebration Day in December which has been communicated to all students and staff.”
Luton Sixth Form College and Leonardo did not respond to FE Week’s request for comment.