Ideas sacrificed in the quest for the perfect CV

LIFE AT CAMBRIDGE
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The Independent Online
Cambridge students are happy and confident of employment, but original thought now seems to be the exception rather than the norm.

It seems that Cambridge is close to becoming just a nursery for budding management consultants. Competition for jobs means that the CV is all, and imagination is the casualty.

It would be too harsh to hold students alone to blame for this: lack of interest in domestic politics is due more to cross-party dullness than to apathy. Labour has cornered the vote, but the telling figure is that 33 per cent of students would not vote or are undecided.

In 1995, students who are involved in politics tend to be attracted to single issues in which moral satisfaction can quickly be gained, and where zeal and commitment can have some real impact. It seems that students are lacking inspiration, while the absence of idealism or charisma in politics has contributed to student apathy.

Signs of spiritual malaise crop up elsewhere. The names that recur in reply to the question "Who do you most admire?" are all sound and wholesome: Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King. However, with the exception of the theoretical physicists Stephen Hawking and Richard Feynman, it seems a great shame that no great men or women of ideas were named.

The only icons that shine in a non-human rights field are either anachronistic, like Darwin, or are fiscal pragmatists such as Richard Branson and Margaret Thatcher. There is no mention of Roland Barthes, or even contemporary humanitarians like Harry Wu or Vaclav Havel.

The novels held in highest esteem by students are similarly hackneyed and unexciting - mid-teens reading such as JRR Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, George Orwell's 1984 and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Although Will Self featured large on Oxford students' lists, only one daredevil chanced his arm and named Cock and Bull as essential reading.

Turning to drugs, 48 per cent of respondents have tried illegal narcotics, and around 16 per cent have tried something stronger than the "reefer" that mum, dad and Clinton shared in the Sixties. However, drug dabbling is now as normal a part of growing up as spots: it is lame to pretend that in the absence of ideas drug takers per se are interesting. It seems that Cambridge needs direction.

n John Elliott is editor of the Cambridge University newspaper Varsity.

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