Back in April I presented at the St Magnus Conference up in Shetland. The conference organized by the Centre for Nordic Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands, had the theme of the Northern Isles and the Sea. What a fantastic conference it was! I learned an awful lot about the history of fishing (something I didn’t know much about before) and the cultural, linguistic and mythological history of the islands (which was such a treat).
The title of my paper was: “Island Narratives: the role of the sea in the construction of higher education and migration choices of young people in Orkney and Shetland”.
Now, I don’t think you’d be alone if at this point you’re thinking – isn’t that a bit of a stretch? Does the sea really have that much of an impact?
My basic argument was that the sea potentially has two roles:
- Creating a division between ‘here’ and ‘elsewhere’, which impacts on the way students construct their choices. Typically students associate higher education with ‘south’ and with excitement, change, youth, as opposed to ‘home’ which is associated with stability, family and community.
- Providing a source of jobs, in the fishing, oil and gas and offshore renewables industries (among others). With many sea based careers attracting higher salaries for potentially lower levels of qualification, this may make certain courses and routes more appealing to students from Orkney and Shetland. In addition sea based careers tend to be dominated by men rather than women, which may lead to young men and women structuring and perceiving their opportunities in different ways.
The first of these points is backed up by my previous research. The second point is conjecture at this stage, but is based on Corbett’s (2010) findings about how the fishing industry impacts on young people’s choices in Atlantic Canada. It has been something I’ve been thinking about, especially as in my original research I started to be aware of possibly gendered patterns of migration from Orkney students.
So, there you go. That was the basis of my paper. What do you think? Is my argument about the role of the sea solid….? As for how my paper was received at the actual conference – I think the audience were pleasantly surprised!