Oxford students are organising a book-burning protest over the contents of this year’s Oxford and Cambridge Careers Handbook.
The handbook, published jointly by the Oxford University Students’ Union (OUSU) and the Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU), carries adverts for careers in arms manufacture and tobacco companies. It includes a whole chapter on “Technology and Security” where students can discover how to get a job manufacturing missiles for MBDA and SELEX Galileo, as well as advertisements for British American Tobacco, and the Freemasons.
The handbook arrived in the college pigeon-holes of final year students last week.
The protesting students plan to burn a pile of the hefty 420-page books on Port Meadow next week in a dramatic and eye-catching demonstration against the focus on limited and traditional career paths. The organisers claim that “according to the Oxford and Cambridge careers guide your only job options are banking, arms, oil and freemasonry.” The banking section is the longest in the handbook, with 30 companies featured; the chapter on alternative careers features only five. There are no featured companies in the charitable sector.
Lewis Goodall, a student at St John’s College who set up the protest said, “The careers book is utterly skewed towards certain, altogether unpleasant industries. To look at the pages of the guide anyone would think our career options can only possibly involve corporate law, Shell and various arms companies. We want to protest to make the editors think twice about their content next year, and have a more diversified provision.”
Oxford students regularly receive invitations for drinks and dinner from banks, accountancy firms, and Magic Circle Law firms. Ben Lyons, a second year at St. Catherine’s College, commented, “OUSU should be making clear to us that we’ve got a bigger choice than KPMG vs. Freshfields when we graduate. While these careers are not to be disparaged, handbooks and careers fairs should be highlighting more socially useful professions.”
The inclusion of some of the companies in the handbook is even more controversial as it seems to conflict with OUSU’s socially responsible investment policy. OUSU has been lobbying the University to invest exclusively in ethically responsible companies. The handbook does not make it clear that all the companies featured paid to be included.
OUSU Environment and Ethics officer Daniel Lowe explained that the publication was produced by a contractor, with little input from the student body. He promised that next year’s handbook would be more diverse, saying “OUSU did not have the level of control desired in the production process, but we will ensure that members of the executive will have far more control from now on.”
Despite the support for the motivation behind the protester, there is scepticism that burning wads of chemically-loaded glossy paper is a good idea. Lyons said, “It’s not smart to go down such a historically loaded avenue as book-burning and it’s not environmentally responsible to burn thousands of sheets of glossy paper, even if the point they’re making is a good one.”
Lowe claimed the protest was pointless. “I see little point in a protest when those in charge have already recognised the problem and promised to do something about it. Port Meadow is a site of special scientific interest and the fragile ecosystem is likely to be badly damaged.” OUSU hold an annual “Beyond Profit” careers fair in Hilary term.