Struggle and Strategy: Higher Education and Labour Market ‘Transitions’

This project explores the question: Why is inequality increasing, despite more people entering Higher Education than ever before?

The normative use of the notion of ‘transition’ in youth studies implies that young people have to achieve certain markers to become an adult: get a full time job, an independent place to live and find a long term partner. This project will recontextualise these assumptions by focusing on the ways young people struggle with and strategise for the risks and affordances they are faced with, where labour market precarity is the norm; inequality is rising despite increased participation in higher education; and the University has undergone neoliberal transformations that have reinvented student experiences.

This project will focus on transitions from higher education to the labour market as a site of struggle – drawing on Bourdieu’s notions of illusio, strategy and social gravity and Fraser’s work on redistribution, recognition and representation. The project will consider struggle in relation to both material and structural inequalities (in relation to forms of capital) as well as struggles for recognition (in relation to becoming – and struggles to become recognized across and within different social and cultural fields). We will be looking at the strategies young people take up to navigate from education to work (and from education/casual work to full time work) by motivations, aspiration, and becoming as non-linear formations of struggle.

We will undertake 32 in-depth, detailed qualitative interviews to understand the struggles students experience in relation to complex transitional processes/spaces and the strategies they engage to try to achieve their ambitions. Where possible, we will pair students in the same programs through the notion of working class and middle class backgrounds based loosely on levels of economic and cultural capital.

The students participating in the project are from Humanities, Social Science, Business and Law programs, and the cohort will consist of: 16 final undergraduate year students (8 in Humanities and Social Sciences and 8 in Business and Law) and 16 recent graduates (8 from Humanities and Social Sciences and 8 from Business and Law).

This project investigates the ways young people in contrasting academic disciplines balance the demands of part time work, study and family commitments whilst drawing upon their existing family networks, material possessions (cars, computers etc.), and access to advice, work placement and internships, strategise and struggle in their trajectory from higher education into the labour force.

Chief Investigators for the project are Professor Penny Jane Burke and Dr Steven Threadgold.