CUSU careers guide

Investigations Editor 15 January 2009

The annual Oxford and Cambridge careers handbook (OCCH) has been criticised by students for presenting only a narrow range of careers despite advertising itself as a ‘comprehensive guide’.

The handbook, now in its 27th year, is produced by the Cambridge student’s union (CUSU) in partnership with the Oxford students’ union (OUSU) and St James’ House, a London based publishing company.

Production of this year’s guide along with a new website was also a cause of friction between the two student unions. Minutes from a CUSU council meeting held on 28th November last year express a ‘deep dissatisfaction’ with OUSU’s handling of the project and accuse the Oxford student union of ‘jeopardising the financial health’ of both organisations as well as damaging the relationship between the two unions.

The careers handbook, which is described in the introduction as ‘the definitive guide to finding a job’, does not include the police service, the army, the NHS or the civil service within the 400 pages of its main section.

The A-Z guide to jobs, which is a subsection of the handbook, also fails to mention the police as a potential employer, but does cover ‘drilling crew’, ‘fish farmer’, ‘diver’, ‘gamekeeper’ and ‘model maker’.

A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police highlighted the reasons why Cambridge students should be interested in a career in law enforcement, stating that the Met ‘offers a fantastic challenge for graduates’ in which ‘your problem solving and decision making skills will be put to the test’.

The police were included in the main section of last year’s OCCH under the section ‘not the 9-5′ alongside advice on careers in Methodist ministry, eco-entrepreneurship and sound engineering. This year’s version of careers which are ‘not the 9-5′ by contrast featured just one company – the British horseracing authority.

The 2008/09 handbook also advertises the Freemasons under the headline ‘pillar of constancy’ and features profiles of Oxbridge graduates including the actor and comedian John Cleese. There is just one company featured in the section ‘diversity and inclusion’, the high street bank Llyods TSB.

The OCCH brought over £78,000 profit for the Cambridge student union last year and the deal with St James’s House was described in the CUSU annual budget as part of a new ‘aggressive’ approach to business risk, following the ‘disastrous’ fiscal year of 2006/7. The guide is a substantial part of CUSU’s annual income, alongside entertainments and the Cambridge Student (TCS).

One student who spoke to TCS described the book as ‘useless for everyone except bankers and lawyers’, adding that it was nothing more than ‘a CUSU cash cow’. Another, a 2nd year historian from Pembroke, commented that the guide ‘might be acceptable in Oxford, but certainly not here’. The handbook is given out free of charge by CUSU in all colleges and porters lodges.

The guide has also come under criticism from students for its design and style. One student told TCS that she thought the choice of sofas and seats as a style theme was more indicative of unemployment than finding work.

Adam Colligan, CUSU co-ordinator, defended the handbook from the accusation that it was too narrowly focused, describing it instead as ‘a win for everyone’.

‘Careers guides are about life and what you do with it – you are always going to be able to find something that is missing from them if you look for it’. He added that the careers guide was an important financial resource for CUSU which is a ‘charity for Cambridge students, not for the profit of officers’.

When compared to the Cambridge Careers Service’s (CCS) own student careers guide, the focus on certain sectors of employment in the CUSU handbook becomes apparent. While the CCS guide devotes as many pages to public service as it does to finance, the CUSU handbook devotes 4 times as many pages to companies in the financial sector.

The CCS guide gives equal number of pages to sections on consultancy and to the section on education, whereas the CUSU careers handbook has 6 times as many pages devoted to consultancy and does not advertise teaching as a career option in the main ‘education and internships’ section.

The Cambridge careers service guide is also handed out free of charge in colleges and porters lodges as well as being available from the careers service itself on Mill Lane.

Minutes from a meeting of CUSU council, dated 28th November 2008, highlight a rift between the two unions centring on the careers handbook and accompanying website.

The CUSU council expressed a ‘deep dissatisfaction’ with OUSU performance. The two unions have also come to blows over the website associated with the guide. The Oxford students’ Union has threatened to withhold funding from the web project, whilst the Cambridge Union has accused its partner of ‘inaction’ and ‘mind-changing’ with regard to completion of the website.

Adam Colligan of CUSU argued that the two student unions have moved on from the dispute.

‘Our working relationship has improved significantly…it’s about 300% better now that it was at that time’.

‘Whilst there is still a long road to travel to get the most out of the special relationship between the two unions, it seems very unlikely that we would again find ourselves where we were last year with that motion.’

‘We continue to believe that the interests of both student bodies are best served when their unions work together on many important projects.’

Pete Jefferys

Investigations Editor