Warwick was my insurance choice, so after the dreaded results day had come and gone and I learned that I was going to be spending the next three years of my life here, I endeavored to learn as much as possible about the university. Besides the comments that “Warwick is boring”, I was cautioned not to get sucked into the ‘Warwick bubble’ – a term used to describe the intimate nature of our campus and the competitive atmosphere contained within it.
Now well into my second year, I have learned two things: that Warwick is not boring (Smack downstairs being a redeeming factor), and that the ‘bubble’ is most definitely a real risk factor.
Commercial money-making careers can become synonymous with success
I am a Law student who came to university with an open mind and a passion for human rights. However, within the very first few months of being at Warwick, I already felt worn down by the pressure to pursue commercial law. I was persuaded to apply to various vacation schemes at large law firms and even attended talks with titles like ‘Fintech, the Future of Financial Institutions’. Unfortunately, all the ‘magic circle’ perks in the world could not make this kind of work even remotely bearable for me.
Like many others, I felt an inherent sense of failure for not following the paved path to ‘success’, as defined by the aspirations of my peers and the culture around me. Commercial money-making careers can become synonymous with success. Although societies try to combat this through alternative careers workshops, the truth is that the commercial side will always dominate, or at least be more prominent simply due to the fact that these firms account for a large proportion of our sponsorship and funding.
Warwick has long had a reputation for being a business-oriented institution. In E.P Thompson’s book Warwick University Ltd: Industry, Management and the Universities, the author and former Warwick professor, criticizes what he perceives to be a university which priotitises profits over people and “managerial control” over “democracy and intellectual debate”.
The pressure to get onto the career ladder as quickly as possible can be extremely toxic
With Warwick recently dubbed “one of the best examples of academic-industrial collaboration” ahead of the new National Automotive Innovation Center’s completion, it is clear that the university’s controversial combination of industry and academia remains firmly in place.
In fact, Warwick was founded on this premise. The University was established in the 1960s with the help and influence of the manufacturing companies in the area around Coventry, who viewed the investment as a way to further develop its industry.
40 decades on, the University’s entrepreneurial strand is still manifest in Warwick Business School, or WBS. This branch of the University is held to be the most prestigious by some, with their new headquarters at the Shard being introduced at the beginning of this academic year. WBS students boast internships with the likes of Ernst & Young LLP and PWC. This feeds into a very prominent culture of competition around campus, which can take its toll on many students.
These big companies and sponsorships are a large part of why Warwick University has advanced as rapidly as it has
On speaking to second year PPE undergraduates at Warwick, the consensus seemed to be that the pressure to get onto the career ladder as quickly as possible can be extremely toxic, with several even stating that job prospects were a greater source of stress than their degrees. Freshers I spoke with reported similar results, perhaps highlighting the magnitude of the problem. Recent reports indicate that one in four students suffer from mental health issues such as stress and anxiety, and it seems reasonable to draw the conclusion that careers stress accounts for at least some proportion of this.
So what should be done? How are Warwick students to combat this careers-obsessed ‘bubble’? Despite all the stress and pressure which can come from attending a ‘business oriented’ university, there are still resources available for those of us who don’t see a future in the corporate world. When the stress of applications and careers become too much, perhaps a re-evaluation of what we want out of our university careers and what motivates us would be beneficial in ascertaining if we are staying true to our aspirations or being consumed by those around us. There is a variety of support students can seek from the university, from mental health services to careers advisers, to ensure that if the stress gets too much we still feel supported.
Ultimately, these big companies and sponsorships are a large part of why Warwick University has advanced as rapidly as it has, despite being a relatively young institution. Its influences can continue to help our university develop and flourish alongside its students, as long as we are able to burst the bubble and avoid our individual goals and needs from being consumed by the pressure around us.