Sociology of Education ‘Lunch and Learn’ Seminar Five: Pressure to attend university and the changing job market: Beyond narrow conceptions of pathways to a ‘good life’

Wed, Oct. 18, 2023 12:00:00 — 13:00:00 AEST

When: Wednesday 18 October 12-1.00pm (AEST)

Sally Patfield, University of Newcastle
Kristina Sincock, University of Newcastle
Leanne Fray, University of Newcastle

Securing stable and well-paid employment has become increasingly difficult world-wide. In recent years, job insecurity has been further exacerbated by new global economic challenges. Particularly since the 2008 financial crisis, traditional full-time permanent positions of employment have given way to casual, part-time, or temporary work globally. This transition has had broad repercussions for young people, including generating impediments to first-time home ownership, with implications for marriage, family formation and social mobility. Concerned about current prospects for youth, we extended a study on school student aspirations by re-interviewing 21 young people about their educational and career outcomes and aspirations since leaving school one-to-five years prior. Questions focused on how participants are navigating their post-school transition into further study or employment. The interviews were thematically coded using a combination of inductive and deductive logic, with the analysis aimed at determining key equity issues that impacted participants’ ability to realise their educational and occupational aspirations. Results demonstrated a range of factors that impacted the participants’ trajectories, with the overwhelming pressure to attend university, the impact of mental ill-health, and the impact of COVID-19 on universities most prevalent. In this paper, we report on the former of these themes in detail. We found that these participants experienced immense pressure from their families, teachers, and communities to attend university, even if career aspirations did not require a degree. They spoke of being repeatedly told that university is key to securing the ‘good life’ and of other post-school pathways being derided. Concerningly, many of these participants faced uneven, fractured and sometimes difficult pathways through university, with a change of degree a common occurrence. This contrasted markedly with their peers who pursued vocational education, who spoke of more secure pathways and post-study jobs. Given evidence elsewhere that up to a third of students who enrol in university do not graduate and data showing that many young people with professional degrees struggle to find permanent work, we argue that the pressure on youth to attend university risks creating a generation disillusioned by false promises. 


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