On 22 December 2022, the University of Sydney announced the renewal of its partnership with French defence giant Thales.
The extension of the 2017 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two organisations aims to focus on ‘big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence’.
The new deal was collectively signed by USyd’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Emma Johnston and Thales Australia and New Zealand CEO Jeff Connolly. It aims to accelerate national security outcomes, embedding staff within each other’s organisation.
Thus far, the partnership has heavily involved the Faculty of Engineering, with Thales funding PhD projects and industry placements. It is expected that this will continue in the fields of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic engineering, as well as Electrical and Informational Engineering.
USyd Education Officers Yasmine Johnson and Ishbel Dunsmore criticised this development, saying that Australian education is “becoming increasingly geared towards Australian militarism and industry”.
“We oppose the further integration into campus life of a company responsible for weapons deployed in brutal wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the militarisation of European borders to prevent refugees from reaching safety, and the oppression of Palestinians,” they said.
The arms manufacturer is infamous for suppressing union movements, complying with the war crimes in Yemen, underpaying workers by $5.4 million and for massive job cuts in their Australian operations. They also have partnerships with Israeli organisations like Elbit Systems, manufacturer of the Watchkeeper WK450 drone that has been used to support UK’s operations in Afghanistan.
Belinda Hutchinson, USyd’s Chancellor, is also the Chairperson of Thales Australia’s board, having been appointed in 2015. Such a connection has been heavily criticised by staff and students.
A University of Sydney spokesperson mentioned that this partnership has allowed space for development and “academic freedom” for their researchers. “All research must take place in tandem with the university’s mission and core values.”
“Signed in 2017 and extended in 2022 the agreement has facilitated the hosting of at least 8 students’ semester placements (ESIPS) at Thales which has helped our students understand how realistic engineering solutions are applied in industry and assess whether their preferred future employment options lie with the company,” said a university spokesperson.