The Impact of Island Location on Students’ Higher Education Choices and Subsequent Career Narratives: A Case Study of the Orkney and Shetland Islands

PhD Thesis

Alexander, R. 2021. The Impact of Island Location on Students’ Higher Education Choices and Subsequent Career Narratives: A Case Study of the Orkney and Shetland Islands. PhD Thesis
AuthorsAlexander, R.
TypePhD Thesis

This thesis considers the relationship between geographical place and career development. Where it exists, theoretical work has typically considered how spatial location can impact on the destinations of school-leavers but supposes less of an impact on university students who are thought of as having global horizons. This thesis explores whether, and how, place remains important in career development even for relatively mobile higher education students. The research focuses on the experiences of young students from two relatively distinctive places: the Scottish islands of Orkney and Shetland. Longitudinal qualitative interviews were undertaken with 22 students who were domiciled in the islands prior to entering higher education. Interviews were conducted at the point of graduation and one year later. These were transcribed and analysed using an approach drawn from critical realist grounded theory. The findings show how participants adopt a common narrative of youth as a period of high mobility (in terms of work and location) but view this as a necessary stage to allow a later process of “settling down” in a particular location, career and (typically) relationship. For many this envisaged future location was back in the islands. Here, it is clear that place remains an important part of imagined futures, but that the relationship to place is changed - with location being something that is chosen, allowing a sense of being “settled” rather than “stuck”. However, the lived career and mobility pathways of students and graduates demonstrate that pathways rarely follow the ideal of high mobility. Instead mobilities are found to take place within certain frameworks – comprising primarily of career structures and relational networks. These are experienced differently at different points of time, with familiarity being a key dynamic in entry to higher education, and resources becoming more important after graduation. Drawing these findings together, this thesis presents a model of career development that draws from Hodkinson’s theory of careership and Bourdieusian theory, but which explicitly considers the intertwining dynamics of relationships, places and career development as they are lived through time. Finally, the conclusion draws out some key implications for policy makers and careers and education practitioners, particularly those working in small and island communities.

Keywordsgeographical place ; career development; school leavers
PublisherUniversity of Derby
File Access Level
Output statusUnpublished
Publication process dates
Deposited17 May 2022
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License: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
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