On corporate parasites and the university

Lord Patten, Chancellor of Oxford University, delivers the keynote address at the Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award ceremony. PHOTO/Financial Times

As the onslaught of the coalition’s neoliberal agenda continues and savage cuts to public services deepen, a whole generation of young people are losing vital education services. Saddled with debts up to £50,000, questions of job security have never weighed so heavily on the minds of the student body. Lying in waiting, ready to pounce, the corporations prepare to launch their marketing assault.

They target students relentlessly, bombarding us with a salvo of solicitations, waging an all-out campaign to lure us in to the murky ranks of City high finance.

The fact is, to the well-trained eye, these adverts are eminently worthy of ridicule.

Their clinical, bureaucratic language serves only to appeal to the lowest common denominators of aspirational traits. “This forward thinking firm is more interested in people who are naturally curious, opinionated, analytical, questioning and thoughtful.” “Sharp, Resourceful, Attentive, Energetic.” Well then, sounds like I’m the one for the job; sign me up right away!

We are advised to polish our images on social media to impress potential future employers, yet perhaps we might do better to look beyond the advertising overload and peer closely into the tales of systemic corruption, fraud and lawlessness that reigns throughout the corporate world.

In the foreword to the ubiquitous The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers, Martin Birchall indeed pays lip service to some of the “troubling views” of the City of London, with its practices including, but not limited to, “rate-fixing, money-laundering and pay disputes”. Nonetheless, these practices are excused by highlighting the fact that they offered 3,500 jobs to graduates last year, as if those occupying these positions won’t themselves be engaged in “rate-fixing, money-laundering and pay disputes”.

Salt is rubbed into the wound as they audaciously co-opt black, feminist and LGBTQ liberation movements with their Recruitment Taskforce Events, Insight Afternoons and Networking Events. Images of glinting skyscrapers and polluting oil rigs mingle with expropriated slogans of the Left: “Revolutionary technologies; we’re a team; common goal.”

We constantly hear these refrains of lifeless technocrats, preaching the gospel of Competition, praising the virtues of greed, and sacrificing the student body on the high altar of Capitalism. The British university system is this great sausage factory, and we are the raw, meaty stuff being forced down the “talent pipeline” to emerge as highly productive human resource assets, reaching our optimum level of potential based on performance and results.

The great machine of high finance, with its foot soldiers thinly disguised in certain gilded societies, forces all into submission with the softly spoken words: “Handsomely paid”. But one can only imagine the amount of money spent on recruitment in elite universities. With a constant barrage of events throughout the year, whole teams of recruiters are hired to ensure that, from the moment you enter the college walls, you remain on their radar. A whole array of employers are relegated to the side-lines as big business throws lavish events in bars, restaurants and colleges up and down this city.

Whilst the social impacts of certain City groups have been thoroughly uncovered, I am more interested in the values which aspiring young students are instilled with. The competitive spirit runs through the veins of our academic institutions. The pressure of debt upon leaving university forces graduates to consider employment opportunities far removed from what they might have initially sought. The hike in tuition fees within the context of a gradually diminishing job pool can only raise the stakes in the quest for the top jobs. Whether intentional or not, this fundamentally alters the nature of the university system. no longer a place of intellectual pursuit for its own sake, it has been transformed by the policies of successive governments into a training centre for multi-national corporations, ensuring the steady supply of bureaucrats to keep the Capitalist cogs turning.

Seen from this perspective, the petty political games of the Oxford hackocracy are simply routine drills, practicing in eager anticipation of the dog eat dog, rough-and-tumble world of corporate turf wars.

The parasitic nature of high finance on the world economy is a well-known fact. It’s time to question the parasitic influence of big business on the university system. As universities turn ever more to private funding to make ends meet, we need to reject this notion that young people must become the indentured slaves of the corporate world, simply in order to get an education.