Adviser on the Edge

careers in island communities: research, theory and practice


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Migration, education and employment: socio-cultural factors in shaping individual decisions in Orkney and Shetland

So, my latest paper has just been published in the Island Studies Journal. The paper is titled: Migration, education and employment: socio-cultural factors in shaping individual
decisions and economic outcomes in Orkney and Shetland. The paper unpacks some of the theoretical background to my research and discusses some of the initial findings from the first interviews in the project. I have summarised some of the key points from my paper below.
Island studies journal

Front cover of the Island Studies Journal Vol. 11 No.1

So in terms of the background to the project I start by discussing the potential role of place in shaping individual decisions. In order to do this I draw on the theoretical framework of Bourdieu, who broadly looks at the way that our social environment can become internalised and influence the decisions that we make (the internalised social environment is our ‘habitus’). Through this use of Bourdieu I challenge rational models of decision making which tend to assume that career and migration decisions are made on a purely economic basis, and suggest that social and cultural aspects of our environment also impact on our decisions.
Looking at the findings of the research project so far I cover two areas: higher education destinations and graduate destinations. Analysing the interviews with higher education students from Orkney and Shetland, these are the main findings I discuss:
HE destinations
  • “Proximity” is important in deciding where to study for university. This proximity is, however constructed in terms of social and cultural familiarity as well as simply geographical distance.
  • Personal challenge is an important part of going to university. Students typically chose locations which had an element of challenge but which were ‘close enough’ to remain manageable.
Graduate destinations
  • Graduates have typically developed more geographical confidence through being at university and at the point of graduation describe being able to live anywhere
  • However graduates still lack professional confidence, and typically see the first years after graduation as a key period to build up their professional experience. For many graduates it is felt that this may be best done away from their home communities.
  • There is a strong theme of wishing to return to the islands at some point in the future, this is often associated with having children and settling down, with the islands being identified in terms of familiarity, homeliness and comfort.
  • Some graduates do return home immediately, either viewing this in terms of ‘settling down’ or in terms of having a break from their studies and recuperating at home before moving away again. However even the graduates who return home more permanently  typically do not rule out perhaps ‘going south’ again in the future.
I finish the paper with further discussion and indicate a few areas for further research. In particular I note that there is a potential interrelation of place-based habitus with other forms of habitus – including occupational and class habitus. Class in particular is something I’m becoming increasingly interested in (as you will have seen from my previous blog) so you can probably expect to see more from me on that particular topic in the not too distant future!
I hope you enjoy the paper and as always if you’d like to comment to let me know what you think that would be fabulous – your comments are fantastic for pushing my thinking on these issues!

 

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Social Class, Rurality and Access to Higher Education

I’ve recently been reading about research into working class students and their experience of Higher Education. Wolfgang Lehmann has written quite extensively about the topic, and describes the challenges working class students may find when entering higher education, experiencing “a ‘‘foreign’’ environment in which they feel like cultural outsiders” (2013:2). The higher education environment is, Lehmann suggests, classed, and as working class students come into contact with higher education they develop new forms of social and cultural capital in keeping with their environment – such as changing tastes in music, dress sense and so on. This process is one of ‘transformation’ which can be a painful and difficult process for students, and may involve a distancing from their working class roots.

So initially this really interested me because it got me thinking about my own experience of leaving home for university, which I found very difficult. Thinking back to my first weeks at university two conversations stand out for me. One was being in a group of students where the conversation was about ‘which international airport has the best shopping?’ and the other was being in another group where a student (from London) said he had no patience for tourists to “his city” who didn’t know how to use the underground. Now these for me were quite profoundly alienating experiences. At the age of 18 I had only ever lived in rural North Cornwall,  flown on one domestic flight (from Aberdeen to Shetland), and I had only been to London once (for an event that I was invited to, where I was accompanied by my mum and we had got lost on the underground….). In the case of both conversations I felt what Lehmann would probably describe as a ‘dislocation’ – these were not people ‘like me’ and I felt alienated from the social context in which I found myself.

Bude beach

Bude: the town I grew up in (or at least the nearest town to the village I grew up in) – image courtesy of: scottcawley CC BY-NC 2.0

 

Now, to a certain extent you could say that these experiences were class related – although I would consider myself middle class (my father was a headteacher, my mother was a writer, and we had enough money to live relatively comfortably) I was studying at Oxford University and so many of my fellow students were significantly more privileged than me. However, I think the other aspect in these experiences relates to place  – we hadn’t flown very much as children partly because of the cost, but also partly because the closest international airport would have been almost a day’s drive away and similarly I was so unfamiliar with London because it was  a significant distance from North Cornwall. Indeed in my first few weeks at university while others were complaining about Oxford being ‘small’ I was confronted with a much larger place than I had ever lived, and was already feeling a physical ‘dislocation’ from the things I knew. In Oxford, for example, I  was confronted by lots of unfamiliar things about city living: using town bus services (how do people know when to get off the bus? our country bus just went from one village to another), using taxi ranks and ‘flagging down’ taxis (I still don’t really understand this, I have always booked taxis in the country), and using mainline train services (I grew up about an hour by car from the nearest train station, and that station was Bodmin – not exactly the hub of everything!). I was also getting used to having city shops on the doorstep (and not having to make a special ‘day trip’ to a city), having galleries and museums a short walk away (which I loved), and being able to go out to city pubs and clubs (I was convinced going out was much more dangerous than at home).

oxford flickr

Oxford: where I went to university –  Image courtesy of das_sabrinchen CC BY-ND 2.0

Of course there were lots of parts of my experience which were exciting and enjoyable, but they were also profoundly challenging. Looking back now I can see that moving to a city was partly challenging because of physically being in a different place and having to manage new and unfamiliar experiences (thinking about it, mostly transport related!) but also about a different social and cultural context (managing city pubs and clubs, and going to museums). It was also about being in a place full of ‘city people’ who knew how to ‘be’ and what to ‘do’ in this unfamiliar place.

So, although I have written before about rurality being a widening access issue, reading about the experience of working class students has started to crystalise my thinking. Perhaps it is possible to think about the experience of rurality in a similar way to class – is rurality a similar challenge to entering higher education? And where for working class students, university can be a ‘transformation’ into a middle class milieu, is university a way for rural students to ‘transform’ and adapt to a more urban environment? Perhaps higher education as a predominantly urban, middle class experience 1 is about producing urban middle class graduates? These are big questions, but in the meantime as it is a topic that I don’t think has received enough attention, I would be interested to hear other people’s stories of going to university from a rural place…. What was your experience? What are the things that stand out for you about your first few weeks at university?

Notes

1. I say ‘predominantly’ because of course increasingly there are higher education options in rural areas, through for example the University of the Highlands and Islands (in Scotland) and the Combined Universities in Cornwall (in Cornwall). The non-traditional experience of students studying in rural areas is also an area that I think deserves more attention but is outside the scope of this blog!

References

Lehmann, W. (2013) ‘Habitus Transformation and Hidden Injuries: Successful Working-class University Students’ Sociology of Education 87(1) 1–15


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Widening Access in Rural Areas

The Scottish Government has just published “A Blueprint for Fairness: The Final Report of the Commission on Widening Access”. 

blueprint

The report concerns widening access generally, but makes a few interesting points with regards to rurality and widening access:

  1. The report recognises that the continued use of the SIMD (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation) is ‘less likely to identify those from disadvantaged backgrounds in more rural areas’ because it identifies geographical concentrations of deprivation, and in rural areas the population is generally more geographically dispersed. However, in the absence of any strong alternatives, the report recommends the continued use of SIMD as a marker of deprivation. This is disappointing for those of us working in rural areas, and with individuals who may experience significant deprivation – however in the absence of any strong alternatives the recommendation is understandable, and it is good to see that, at least, the issues with use of SIMD are being foregrounded.
  2. Recommendation 18 specifically mentions rural areas: “Universities, colleges and local authorities should work together to provide access to a range of Higher and Advanced Higher subjects, which ensures that those from disadvantaged backgrounds or living in rural areas are not restricted in their ability to access higher education by the subject choices available to them.” In contrast to the first point, this is a really welcome recommendation – it is absolutely true that students in small rural schools may have less choice over their subjects than in other larger schools. In my experience this can lead to students either feeling unable to undertake certain training routes, or having to take a less-than-ideal training route e.g. undertaking a crash-Higher course in order to access their preferred training.
  3. Finally it is good to see that at the end of the report there is recognition that the authors have had to focus their findings on one specific area: access to the core provision of higher education for those from socioeconomically deprived backgrounds or those with care experience. As they note, to their regret they have not been able to focus on a number of areas, including ‘Access to HE for those from rural areas’. Again it’s great to see that access to HE from rural areas is noted as an area of interest, even if the report does not address this to any significant extent.

Overall although it is disappointing that we have retained the SIMD as a marker of deprivation, it is good to see that rural issues are being noted by the authors of the report, and it is great to see that increased flexibility in education pathways is being identified as important for rural communities and rural people.

If you’re interested in this blog you may also be interested in my previous blog on Social Mobility in Rural Areas. It is also maybe useful to note that there is some research on access to HE from rural areas specifically – for example the research coming from St Andrews about Access to HE for rural communities  As ever I would be interested to hear your thoughts too!

 


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Professionalism in Careers Guidance

It was great to see this recent paper on professionalism in the Careers Sector:

Hooley, T., Johnson, C. and Neary, S. (2016). Professionalism in Careers. Careers England and the Career Development Institute.CDI

I hope it goes some way to answering the questions I’m often asked about why qualifications and training are important for careers advisers. I’m trying to do my bit by appearing on the CDI’s register and using the initials and logo after my name, and I’d encourage other careers advisers to do the same!

 

 


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Careers Research Symposium: Remote and Rural Communities

Last week I was invited to attend a Careers Research Symposium hosted by SDS and Edinburgh Napier university. My presentation focused on Careers Guidance in remote and rural communities. My two main points were:

Geographic location is important in career decision making:

Different locations have different labour markets, this means that people have different employment opportunities based on their location and importantly may have different awareness of different kinds of jobs. In addition different places may be marked by different ways of being, different expectations and different values which may impact on the choices people make.

For rural and remote young people migration is part of career decision making:

Decisions about career pathways for young people in remote areas will almost always involve consideration of moving or staying. Young people may be more or less comfortable with migrating depending on their personal history (especially how much they have moved around in the past), the existence of friend and family networks in other parts of the country (or the world) and how confident and / or motivated they are.

I finished by asking the audience to reflect on how consideration of location may influence their own practice as careers advisers. This was the exercise I set:

napier symposiumThe exercise generated some really fruitful discussion about how careers advisers work with rural young people – something I’m hoping to write more about in the future. So if you are reading this and have any further thoughts I would be interested to hear them….!


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The Outrun – one experience of growing up in, leaving and returning to Orkney

I have just read “The Outrun” by Amy Liptrot, and what a great read it was! Amy’s book is an autobiographical account of returning to Orkney from London and her struggle with alcohol addiction. Returning to Orkney, Amy reflects on her upbringing (on a sheep farm in the West Mainland), her drive to leave the islands as a teenager, and her return to the islands, newly sober. Trying to make sense of these movements, Amy’s book is a fascinating read for people interested in the experience of growing up on islands, and the movements of young people from islands.

AN88540349The Outrun by Amy

Much of what Amy describes will be familiar to other young people in Orkney and Shetland (and in fact young people in rural communities generally). In particular she describes having a ‘great drive to leave’ (p112) the islands, to experience life elsewhere, and to get off ‘the rock’. The world away from the islands is characterised as full of potential, as exciting and boundary-free (in contrast to the boundaried life of the islands). However, alongside this sense of excitement is a sense of risk, and of possibility tipping into excess, notably Amy describes the ‘temptations of the lifestyles elsewhere’ (p111) – with the word “temptation” summing up the attractions but also potentially the addictive or excessive nature of urban life.

 

Having left the islands for London life, Amy describes the challenge of maintaining a sense of ‘reality’ that encompasses these two very different lifestyles: ‘When I am in London, Orkney itself seems imaginary. I find it hard to believe that this life is real when I’m down there’ (p112). The challenge of creating a narrative (such as Amy’s book) or indeed to simply be able to understand your own personal story depends on being able to resolve contradictions and present a coherent narrative. Having two different experiences of lives can therefore present a real challenge – who is Amy when she is in the city, and who is she when she is in the country? One interesting potential for working with this tension appears in the book through the use of technology – Amy is online, blogging and communicating with a global audience even when she returns to Orkney and she notes that: ‘since I’ve been sober and in Orkney, I’m online more than ever as a way of keeping myself linked to the old life I’m not prepared to cut ties with.’ (183). Technology offers a way of ‘linking’ lives together, allowing her to ‘be’ in several places at once. However, the potential of technology goes further, creating a virtual space that feels more like ‘home’ than potentially either London or Orkney. She uses the internet to research what she is seeing in the sea and sky of Orkney, to connect with people, and to explore herself, she says ‘I’m using technology to take myself to the centre of something from my spot at the edge of the ocean. I’m trying to make sense of my environment’ and ‘often I feel as if my real life is inside the computer while my time back in Orkney and the people I see here are just a temporary intrusion’.

The world that Amy presents is certainly very ‘placed’ with Orkney and London being the two poles of her world, but at the same time technology allows her to be in-between, and in fact to create a space which is uniquely her own. This being ‘in’ two lives, and creating her own space is perhaps an  experience that, for Amy, with her own biography is relatively familiar. As the child of English parents who moved to Orkney she describes not really feeling like she belonged in Orkney, feeling ‘too big and too English’. However, this familiarity doesn’t mean that it’s a comfortable experience, and I couldn’t help remembering Giddens’ ideas about how globalisation and the rise of technology has created particular demands on people in terms of creating and maintaining their sense of self.

As well as wrestling with having two different lives, there is a challenge for Amy in terms of understanding what it is to have ‘returned home’.:

“I don’t want to have to admit that I’ve come back – that I’ve failed. I wonder if it’s possible to really come back once you’ve lived away for a while, or if it’s called coming ‘home’ when you never belonged” (p85)

With our cultural expectations of living a life ‘independent’ to our parents, it is easy to see how returning to a family home, to the resources of your parents may be experienced as a ‘failure’. In addition because Amy doesn’t feel like she ‘belongs’ in Orkney, she doesn’t have the comfort of returning to a wider social context that feels like ‘home’.

Not only does Amy struggle to find ways to think about her return for herself, but trying to explain her choice to others is even harder:

“I tell people I came here simply for the cheapest rent I could find. Although that isn’t completely true, I didn’t choose to come here to ‘downsize’ or ‘get back to nature’. It wasn’t my  plan to return home for recovery, it was more that I came back for a visit and got stuck. This is where I come from, not – like most English people in Orkney – where I chose to come to. The last year has been a gradual process of saying, ‘I’ll just stay for a few more weeks,’ for dyking or lambing, then for a few months the corncrakes, and now I’ve committed to a whole winter on Papay. Orkney keeps holding on to me.” (p143)

Here Amy is clear that where other people might move to Orkney for lifestyle reasons or for the nature, for her there is not so much ‘choice’. The fact that she is in Orkney is almost by default, and this makes it difficult to ‘explain’. Indeed it is quite possible that many of us end up in places (careers or locations) that seem to happen by default, or by accident and with limited planning. However, this doesn’t make for a good ‘story’ and as such we may rationalise these decisions, or (at least) present them as rational. But in this case, how can Amy present her decision? For her, as for other young people raised in the islands returning home may simply be a practical decision, and finding an interim job like being the ‘Corncrake wife’ can then be the reason to stay for a little while, and then a little while longer; and before you know it you are ‘stuck’, or as Amy says ‘Orkney keeps holding on to me’.

Overall the book was a fantastic read, very well written and absolutely fascinating for me from my research perspective. Amy’s writing is clear and honest and articulates a particular experience of growing up, leaving and returning to the islands so incisively. I have to say it was also a delight to read so many Orkney stories all woven together with Amy’s very personal story. As the cover matter states it is ‘astonishingly beautiful… a luminous, life-affirming book’ which I would strongly recommend – even if you are not studying a PhD in the experience of young people from island communities!


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Rural labour markets of the future?

Charlie Ball (who writes the High Peak Data blog) has just written about his predictions for the graduate labour market in 2016… In his blog he makes this prediction:

The urbanisation of graduate work

Graduate employment is concentrated in cities, and that shows no sign of of changing soon. Over 40% of the working population in Newcastle, Manchester, York, Sheffield, Leeds, Bristol, Bath, Oxford, Cambridge, Cardiff, Swansea, Newport, Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow had a degree or equivalent at the end of 2014, and when we get figures for 2015, Liverpool, Nottingham, Leicester, Birmingham, Coventry, Norwich, Ipswich and Southampton could all have joined the list. For graduates looking for work – look to the cities. Smaller urban areas, and rural areas, will have some roles, but mainly in a public sector which is likely to continue to lose jobs.

For policy – graduates will play an increasingly important role in urban economies, and we need to get to grips with a future where the largest group of employees in many of our cities – in some cases a majority, and not just in London – will have degrees.

Interesting eh? Reading this I wonder – if more and more graduate jobs are in cities, what is happening to the experience of graduates who choose a different path and live in rural areas? Partly, yes, their employment prospects will be different (with graduate jobs in rural areas, as Charlie notes, mainly focused on the public sector), but there will also, potentially, be social or psychological impacts. How would it be, for instance to be the only one from your university friends who chooses to live in a location other than London or another city? How would you feel? Would this experience impact on your future choices…? All of these are questions to ponder, and I would be interested in your thoughts…