Not going to university: Context-based rationality, with links to social class and rural location in the career decision-making of school leavers in Scotland

Ramage, Elysha (2024) Not going to university: Context-based rationality, with links to social class and rural location in the career decision-making of school leavers in Scotland. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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In the past fifty to sixty years there has been a rapid expansion in participation in higher education meaning that it is no longer a preserve of the elite (Carpentier, 2018). However, there remains a participation gap between the most and least privileged (OECD, 2018, Chowdry et al., 2013, Carneiro and Heckman, 2002). Furthermore, there is a growing body of research on how rural location can impact career decision-making (Alexander, 2013, Bakke, 2018, Corbett, 2013, Ramage, 2019). Research has shown there are many benefits for participating in higher education such as improved earnings, better health and social capital (Montenegro and Patrinos, 2014). The starting point for most economic studies of educational choice is based on human capital theory which suggests that, given there is a graduate wage premium, and in the presence of either perfect capital markets (or, in the case of Scotland, government-funded low interest loans) would suggest it is ‘irrational’ for qualified young people not to choose higher education. That they do so requires examination of other influences which affect their decision.

This longitudinal qualitative project brought in career decision-making theory and investigated the choices of young people in Scotland, qualified to enter higher education. It sought to uncover the process of decision-making and the role of prior beliefs and perceptions which led them to choose an alternative post-school route and identifies the consequences of their choices and how this links to socioeconomic status (SES) and rural location. Sixteen school leavers, not choosing university, were interviewed on their decision-making choices and perceptions of university over the course of two years. Thematic analysis identified key themes as: “university as a risky investment”, “finding my own way” and “manifestation and limits of personal agency”. Conclusions, were that participants were making choices rational to them and their context, linking with Hodkinson et al’s (1996) theory on pragmatic realism and Simon’s concept of bounded rationality (1997). That is that non-monetary preferences, constraints, and other unobservable factors that an average return to education would not capture had a bearing on their choices. Two years on participants overall were content with the choices made, even if their realised plans changed from their initial plans. Changes, challenges, and setbacks were often framed as “learning experiences”. This project has practical implications for school professionals supporting young people in their decision-making and widening access policy.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1603 Secondary Education. High schools
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > Adam Smith Business School > Economics
Supervisor's Name: Findlay, Professor Jeanette and Hermannsson, Professor Kristinn
Date of Award: 2024
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2024-84368
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Jun 2024 14:03
Last Modified: 19 Jun 2024 15:43
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.84368

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