Adviser on the Edge

careers in island communities: research, theory and practice


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International vs Internal Student Mobilities

One of my colleagues at the University of the Highlands and Islands, Dr Philomena De Lima is doing some work at the moment to bring together scholarship on international migration and internal migration. Thinking about her work, I read the paper “Internal and International Migration: Bridging the Theoretical Divide”  (King, Skeldon and Vullnetari, 2008). Now, in my PhD I think about internal migration the whole time – how students and graduates move from their island locations, mostly to the Scottish Mainland. Most of my reading has been about internal migration and rural-urban migration specifically. Sometimes in conversations with others I am asked about how my work fits with current international interests in migration (say, for example, when I was last in Greece and the refugee crisis there was very visible). However I haven’t really thought a great deal about it, as most of the research into international migration doesn’t seem that relevant to me. I guess in many ways I have been stuck on the ‘internal’ side of the migration divide!

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Refugee camp at Mytilini, Lesvos Island where I was at a conference last year (photo courtesy of Pixabay)

Reading King et al’s paper was very interesting though, because they highlight how the traditions of researching international and internal migration have indeed been quite separate (it’s not just me who has focused on one and not the other…). In their paper they suggest that we should be ‘bridging the theoretical divide’- partly to address the imbalance in scholarship (most scholarship is on the topic of international migration, but most migration is internal) and also because the boundaries between internal and international migration in practice can be very blurred. In particular they discuss the systems approach to migration as being a possible paradigm that can encompass both internal and international migration. Reading their paper has inspired me to not think so narrowly about migration but to consider how international and internal migration might be part of the same spectrum. In fact when reading their paper I was struck by reflecting on how often international migration came up in my interviews with participants as a future possibility (and an actual lived experience in a couple of cases).

What it also got me thinking about is practical implications from my research. So within the UK higher education setting a key emphasis in recent years in terms of graduate employment has been on internationalisation of students and graduates to enable them to access a global workplace (Diamond et al, 2011). However what has received a great deal less attention are issues around internal mobility of students and graduates. My research is showing that this is an important issue for students especially given that graduate jobs are not equally geographically distributed, with a strong centralisation in city regions, and in the UK particularly the South East (Ball, 2012).

What occurs to me is that perhaps universities and higher education policy has been particularly focused on international mobility without necessarily seeing a link to internal mobility. But, I would suggest, perhaps these two could be thought of as part of the same spectrum? And if universities are serious about increasing graduate choice, and increasing graduate access to employment then consideration should be given to internal mobility as well as international mobility.

It would be really interesting to explore further some of the approaches to internationalisation within Higher Education (not an area of specialism for me) and to identify whether similar approaches could be used in terms of internal mobility of students. Considering the mobilities of students generally (internal and international) may be beneficial for students and graduates from very rural and remote communities, but equally given increasing trends for students to study from home, mobility more generally may be an important issue for students all over the country.

References

Ball, C. (2012) ‘Regional Overview of Graduate Employment’, in HECSU, What do Graduates Do? Manchester; HECSU p.4

Diamond, Walkley, Forbes, Hughes and Sheen (2011) ‘Global Graduates: Global Graduates into Global Leaders’ Association of Graduate Recuiters

King, Skeldon and Vullnetari (2008) “Internal and International Migration: Bridging the Theoretical Divide”

 

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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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RETI Conference

Cover of the RETI 2015 conference programme

Cover of the RETI 2015 conference programme

The week before last I was lucky enough to attend the latest RETI conference, being held right here in Orkney (hosted by the Centre for Nordic Studies).

RETI stands for Réseau d’Excellence des Territoires Insulaires and is a network of island based universities, of which the University of the Highlands and Islands is one. The conference itself focused on the “Impact of culture heritage on economic development in island destinations” and included delegates from across the world.

The paper I gave was titled: Migration, education and employment decisions of islanders – understanding the role of sociocultural factors in shaping individual decisions and economic outcomes in Orkney and Shetland

And this was the abstract:

Migration, and particularly youth migration, as many commentators have noted, is a common feature of island communities. The ‘missing generation’ of young people is a cause for concern among policy makers in the island communities of Scotland, including Orkney and Shetland. Retention and attraction of young educated professionals is seen as a vital part of increasing levels of human capital and the economic potential of island communities. Therefore understanding the motivations for migration decisions of young island leavers as well as those who stay and return is important in order to inform necessary policy interventions. Research in this area has typically focused on how young people leave island communities for economic reasons and the pursuit of better education and career opportunities; those who return (usually later in life) are shown to move for primarily lifestyle reasons. However, as this paper will demonstrate, migration pathways and decisions are complex, and as well as economic motivations, individual differences and social and cultural influences are also important. Split into two parts this paper will first of all offer some discussion of contemporary career theory and the work of the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu to identify how wider social and cultural influences may impact on the career and migration decisions of young islanders. The second part of the paper will present some initial findings of a current research project into the decisions and pathways of higher education entrants from Orkney and Shetland. Qualitative data will be presented from interviews with recent graduates alongside analysis of statistical data from previous graduate cohorts in order to explore some of the sociocultural influences that lie beneath the migration and career decisions of higher education students from the islands.

The paper generated some really interesting discussion and gave me a whole lot of ideas to follow up, which was great!


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Aquapelagos and Island Careers: a case study of Orkney and Shetland

This week I published a paper in Shima: the International Journal of Research into Island Cultures titled “Career Decision making in Island Communities: applying the concept of the Aquapelago to the Shetland and Orkney Islands”.

Shima front cover

Front Cover of Shima: love the puffins! It reminds me of some great puffin-watching at Sumburgh Head a couple of years ago.

In this paper I take Hayward’s concept of the Aquapelago (which I have previously blogged about) and examine how useful it can be as a conceptual frame for thinking about island career pathways.

Hayward originally introduced the term ‘aquapelago’ as a way of redefining the ‘archipelago’, a term he felt had become too land-focused (focusing on the land spaces of an island group, rather than the integrated marine and land environment). His full definition of the aquapelago is:

a social unit existing in a location in which the aquatic spaces between and around a group of islands are utilised and navigated in a manner that is fundamentally interconnected with and essential to the social group’s habitation of land and their senses of identity and belonging.

(Hayward, 2012: 5)

My main argument in the paper is that the concept potentially offers a strong interpretive value when considering island careers for several reasons:

  • It refocuses and expands the concept of the island labour market so that it includes employment that may take place on and around sea spaces as well as land spaces.
  • Alongside conceptualising the labour market, it also focuses on the experiences of migration off, on and between islands. This allows for an integrated perspective on career pathways which considers migration issues alongside labour market issues.
  • It highlights the social and cultural context of island communities, and the role of space in the creation of ‘identity’. This allows for an understanding of the way the social and cultural context of islands may influence career decisions.

I then go on to discuss Orkney and Shetland using the lens of the aquapelago to pick out some themes about island career trajectories.

I would be really interested to know your thoughts on the paper!


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New Research Project on Youth Aspirations and Attitudes in the Highlands and Islands

A new piece of research has just been commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) on the attitudes and aspirations of young people in the Highlands and Islands. According to the researchers the project aims to: ‘capture the aspirations of young people with regard to living and working in the region, and their perceptions of the Highlands and Islands in terms of the opportunities it affords young people’.

I’m excited about this project because of the potential it affords to build on the previous research commissioned by HIE into Youth  Migration (2009), and the socio economic report on Young People in the Highlands and Islands (2014) as well as drawing from the  Orkney Population Change Study (2009) and the Outer Hebrides Migration Study (2007). All of these reports have provided a solid basis for future research, outlining some of the general population trends and motivations for migration within, to and from the region. However, this new research aims to probe further, understanding more in-depth about the aspirations and the motivations of young people. This should really help to increase what we know about youth migration in the region. Personally I’m also looking forward to the research being published because I suspect that the findings may well form a key part of the literature review of my PhD!

As part of the project, interviews are being held with key stakeholders (and I pleased that this included me!), as well as interviews with young people and a survey of young people too. So if you are aged 15-30 you can take part in the research and help contribute to the project by completing the survey, you don’t even have to live in the region in order to take part, and by taking part you can be entered into a draw to win tickets for the Belladrum music festival.


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A Tale of 1930s Island Migrations….

Last night I went to see the film ‘The Galapagos Affair’ at the West Side Cinema in Orkney. The film is a documentary focusing on three groups of European settlers on a remote island in the Galapagos, a mysterious disappearance and the deaths of some of the inhabitants…

The story itself is gripping – however, as well as enjoying the film itself, it also got me thinking about key themes in terms of migration to island communities. In particular I was struck by this quote from the imdb.com database: “it is a parable about the search for paradise — about what happens when a handful of individualists settle on the same small island seeking their own distinct and sometimes clashing notions of Eden.” The motivations of the main participants in this film are indeed quite different – the first, the Ritters, move to escape civilisation and to allow Dr Ritter to develop his philosophical ideas. They are followed by the Wittners who are attracted by developing a sustainable lifestyle, and have read about the Ritters in the European press. They are then followed by ‘the Baroness’ and her two male companions who want to set up a hotel on the island for rich travellers. The difference in motivations, which could be characterised as ‘solitude’, ‘sustainability’ / ‘community’, and ‘economic’ are also infused with different ideals and images of islands – islands as refuge from society, islands as bounteous places, islands as close-knit communities, islands as ideal holiday destinations. As the motivations and ideals of the different migrants come into contact clashing is inevitable, but it is when the ‘reality’ of island life is intensified through a prolonged drought that tension in the island really intensifies and results in the disappearances and deaths of the inhabitants. Now, it is common for islands to be portrayed as a ‘paradise’, but it is also common for islands to be associated with confinement (for example the prison islands of Alcatraz or Robben island). What is interesting in this film is how quickly ‘paradise’ can turn into a claustrophobic prison for the settlers.

The film is a great watch if you’re interested in island movements – both in terms of the huge sacrifices made to move to island communities, and the (financial) challenges of finding a way ‘off’ islands. The challenges for incomers to island communities are also acutely portrayed, and some of my favourite quotes from participants were: “wherever you go, you bring yourself” and “paradise is a state of mind, it is not a place”.


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Graduate Mobility and Employment

Charlie Ball's report on Graduate Migration patterns

Charlie Ball’s report on Graduate Migration patterns

I have just read Charlie Ball’s excellent report: Loyals, Stayers, Returners and Incomers: Graduate migration patterns. I’ve been interested in Charlie’s work for some time, ever since coming across his earlier report into graduate migration patterns in the West of England. What this current report shows, as with his previous work, is that employment outcomes and graduate migration patterns are interrelated. So, for example, ‘incomer’ graduates (those who have not lived or studied in the region previously) have the lowest likelihood of being in a non-professional job, and returners (those who returned to their region of domicile after moving away for university) are the most likely to be in non-professional work.

What is particularly striking to me in this report, though, is the proportions of students in the various categories. The proportions are as follows:

Regional Loyal: 45.9%

(those who were domiciled in, studied in and remained in the same area)

Regional Returners: 24.7%

(those who were domiciled in an area, moved away to study and then returned to the area)

Regional Stayers: 11.5%

(those who move elsewhere to study, and then stay in the region in which they studied for work).

Regional Incomers: 18%

(those who were domiciled in and studied in areas other than the one they lived in after university)

The thing that strikes me is that almost three quarters of graduates stayed in, or returned to their home location after university. This raises significant questions for me about how mobile graduates actually are. Although in the policy literature it is often assumed that graduates are (or should be) highly mobile and willing to move for work, in reality the picture looks somewhat different.

A final thing I noticed from the report is that Scotland is treated as one region, which is notable mainly for its very high levels of Loyals. However, I wonder if there is scope for a more detailed and granular analysis of Scotland by region. Given that there are significant regional differences in Scotland – with the central belt being the centre of population, employment and also of universities – I wonder if there would be significant differences between the mobility patterns of students in the central belt compared to other areas?