Fulltime UK Masters Students

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1 University of Leeds Lifelong Learning Institute Employability and Career Progression for Fulltime UK Masters Students Final report for the Higher Education Careers Service Unit Helen Bowman, Phil Hodkinson and Helen Colley November 2005

2 Contents Chapters 1). Executive Summary 3 2). Introduction 6 3). Entry onto the Masters courses 14 4). Experiences of the Masters courses 28 5). Beyond Masters courses 53 6). Inequality and difference 73 7). Understanding career progression as learning 90 8). Implications for career guidance 100 Bibliography 112 Individual Stories Geoff 14 Linda 16 Alice 18 Sophia 28 Jodie 30 Vic 33 Elizabeth 35 John 53 Jack 56 Katharine 58 Todd 60 Tables and Diagrams Table 2.1: the students 13 Figure 5.1: the job application cycle 63 2

3 Executive Summary This project was commissioned by the Higher Education Careers Service Unit (HECSU) from the Lifelong Learning Institute of the University of Leeds. We investigated the career development of fulltime UK Masters students, from the start of their course in September 2002, until 18 months after they had left, in April We sampled four students from each of six different Masters courses in two universities (one pre-1992, one post-1992). We conducted four sweeps of semistructured interviews with the students and with others significantly involved in their lives. The sweeps were conducted at the beginning and end of the Masters course, 6 months after they left and 18 months after they left. Stages of Transition The students transition into employment can be seen as three stages: life before, during and after the course. Entry onto the Masters courses Choice of Masters course was influenced by prior dispositions and experiences. Students considered only a limited number of options. Reasons for further study involved a combination of interest in academic work and a hope that the course would lead to a fulfilling job. Choice of course and institution were strongly influenced by social factors, including friendship and family. University tutors were influential in encouraging students to stay on after their first degree. The students experienced varied patterns of progression onto the courses. Eleven were staying on in the same department. Four were moving on, into a different university or to a different subject. Nine were coming back to fulltime education after a period in the labour market. Experiences on the Masters Course The Masters course was a time of change. There were four types of transition: 1. Confirmatory and socialising transitions: for eight students the Masters year reinforced their original decision. It socialised them into the norms and expectations of the course and the labour market they were targeting. 2. Confirmatory transitions: seven students shared their focus between the Masters course and other interests, reinforcing their identities through both. 3. Contradictory/evolving transitions: five students had experienced problems within the Masters course, giving them a sense of not fitting in and causing them to reconsider their options. All completed their course but took steps to move into other areas. 4. Dislocated transitions: four students had found the year very stressful. Experiences after the course The period after the course was one of continuing transition. Their experiences could be grouped into four types: Return to contents 3

4 1. Moving on track: transitions into work: Only one was employed doing the job he originally aimed for at the start of the Masters course. Six were in roles similar to those they had envisaged. Five of these seven had returned to their fulltime Masters courses after a period in the labour market and the other two had had substantial periods of work experience. 2. Changing tack: transitions through work: Ten were in jobs or doing postgraduate study that they hoped would embed them into new fields. Temporary, voluntary and agency work had been influential in clarifying what they did and didn t want to do. They had forged their new routes through the employment situations they had experienced since exiting their course. All had used social contacts to help them to move on. 3. Staying on: transitions to research degrees: Four had moved onto fulltime PhDs. Only one had considered this whilst still on the Masters course. The other three entered a PhD because of frustration with the opportunities in their target field of work and the availability of funding. 4. Balancing act: transitions to alternative careers and lifestyles: Two students were working in jobs which didn t require a degree and were unrelated to either their subject area or ambitions. One woman placed the family before a career, and a man still had hopes of a career through a rock band. An Integrated Transitioning Process This view of transition as three stages can be misleading. It often made more sense to see a continuous process of change, which began long before the Master course, and will continue well after our research was completed. Throughout this process, the young people were learning about themselves and their place in the world. They actively constructed their own sense of student and employment identity, and their own employability. This transitioning process was strongly influenced by other people and organisations. It entailed struggle and conflict, as well as support and negotiations. Social Inequalities Access to education and employment in the UK are becoming more unequal, and the Masters degree experience reflects this. Most of our sample were middle class and white. Many came from relatively prosperous family backgrounds, and through independent schools. Others had a less privileged situation, but none were from socially disadvantaged parts of society. There were significant gender differences. Men were more often supported by a female partner than the reverse. Some courses were predominantly male, and women on one course experienced stressful sexism. One man put his musical life before career and family, whereas several women put family and child-rearing first. There are significant inequalities between universities. In our study, one was more prestigious, had greater access to prestigious employers and had far greater resources than did the other. Inequalities influenced all stages of the transitioning process. Combinations of economic, social and cultural capital were vital in securing the progression of successful students. 4

5 Uses of Guidance Very few of our sample had much direct engagement with HE careers services or the Prospects website. Paradoxically, those who knew what they wanted to do assumed that careers services catered for those who did not. Those who were unclear about their intentions assumed the careers services catered for those who knew what they wanted to do! Informal guidance was more widespread and influential. This included family, friends and partners. Masters course tutors were influential in decisions to enter the course, in decisions to continue into PhD work and, in vocational courses, in supporting progression into the targeted occupation. Employment agencies were used by several students. The quality of informal guidance varied considerably. The research showed a widespread need for things that good career guidance can provide. There were many examples of unnecessary ignorance, of poor career management skills and of people who needed help, but were unwilling to seek it or did not know that it was available. Recommendations for Guidance Provision 1). Market-making and person-centred approaches should be better balanced to provide a more student-friendly service and offer broader guidance with transparent impartiality. 2). Funding for taught Masters students is needed with more equitable distribution across pre- and post-1992 institutions. 3). Pre-entry guidance should be enhanced, as well as providing guidance within the Masters course induction, presented in a scholarly way. Guidance should be based not only on employer perspectives, but also student and postgraduate employee perspectives. Needs-based career guidance websites could be developed in more creative and effective ways to draw on narrative evidence and student voices and to disseminate non-traditional career information 4). Better and more differentiated intelligence is needed about the labour market for Masters graduates and this should be accessible and promoted to prospective Masters students. 5). HE careers services should promote equality of opportunity by advocating with employers, supporting students and challenging discrimination. 6). HE career guidance should be in tune with the lived experiences of students this entails adopting sound theoretical orientations. In particular, views of progression as normally linear and of job choice as a form of matching should be resisted. 5

6 2). Introduction Rationale This research was commissioned by the Higher Education Careers Service Unit (HECSU), from the Lifelong Learning Institute of the University of Leeds. The focus of the research is on the career progression and employability of UK resident fulltime Masters degree students. In the current UK situation there is a paradox around the place of Masters degrees within Higher Education (HE). There has been a progressive expansion of graduate numbers, with the explicit policy objective of 50% of the age group entering HE in the near future. Such growth in graduate numbers sets a premium on those who can demonstrate something extra. At the same time, for workers classed as professional by the Labour Force Survey, there had been a dramatic % increase in those with higher degrees, from 14.4% (male), and 11.0% (female) in 1991, to 24.9% (male) and 28.3% (female) by 2001 (Lambert, 2004). This had the effect of increasing the advantage derived from attending high status institutions (Brown and Scase, 1994, Egerton, 2001), and in acquiring additional post-graduate, Masters-level qualifications. Universities have an interest in expanding all student numbers to face steadily declining income, and in creating a large pool of Masters students from which they may be able to identify future doctoral candidates. Moreover, performance indicators for universities now focus on the employability of their alumni (HEFCE, 2000). Such pressures, from both demand and supply sides, might be expected to result in increasing numbers progressing from their first degree onto Masters programmes. However, a report by the British Academy (2001), focusing on humanities and social science graduate studies, showed that it was becoming increasingly difficult for universities to recruit fulltime UK-based Masters degree students. Because Masters courses are a major route into research careers, the British Academy report highlighted some problematic consequences flowing from this situation. It linked the issue to a decline in the volume and quality of outputs from those who become PhD students, predicted a crisis in replenishing HE teaching and research staff, and argued that a shortage of adequately trained professionals would disadvantage the British economy and the intellectual health of the nation (British Academy, 2001, p.2). The report identified lack of funding and student debt as the dominant issue. It also identifies the problems of unattractive pay, conditions and career structure in research and HE. Yet, apart from this study, there is no existing research explicitly focussed upon students career progression into, through and beyond Masters degree study. Most relevant literature focuses on undergraduate experiences and Bachelor graduate transitions to the labour market, for example, focusing on employers expectations of graduateness (Hawkins and Winter, 1995), and the need to develop employability through personal transferable skills (CVCP, 1998). Elias et al. (1999) show that many students enter Masters courses hoping that this will enhance their career prospects by leading to appropriate jobs, despite the fact that the intensity of academic study, and competitive pressure to achieve good results, make it difficult for Return to contents 6

7 them to find time to reflect on career decisions or seek advice and guidance. Heist s national survey of postgraduates course choices, motivation to study and course experiences focused on how institutions might improve recruitment by making provision more accessible and transparent to students (O Neill, 1995). Taught Masters programmes are often marketed on the basis that students will develop higher-level generic skills as well as advanced specialist knowledge. But there is no evidence about how such claims relate to the actual experiences of students in approaching their studies, making career decisions or moving into employment. Other research challenges a simplistic interpretation of employers expectations (Harvey et al, 1997, Rikowski, 2001), and of the work constructs that are promoted through careers education and guidance (Colley, 2000, Hirsch et al, 1998). Also, some Masters programmes focus on intrinsic purposes. For example, Masters courses in Medieval English Literature at traditional Universities specifically target students who wish to pursue their subject area in greater depth, even though related job opportunities are severely limited. Studies reveal significant social inequalities and their impact upon access to Masters courses and the post-masters labour market. These include genderstereotyping of subjects and vocational orientation (Corti et al, 1995, Lightbody et al, 1997a), differing processes of decision making for HE (Reay et al, 2001), institutional discrimination through covert cultural filtering of candidates (Lightbody et al, 1997b, Purcell and Hogarth, 1999), and lack of support for those students with additional needs (Gutteridge, 2001). Some research suggests that Masters level study may ameliorate labour market entry for non-traditional or otherwise disadvantaged graduates (Corti et al, 1995, Egerton, 2001, Elias et al, 1999). However, literature on doctoral students identifies ways in which social inequalities shape student-tutor relationships and influence progression (Chapman and Sork, 1997, Delamont, 2001). Other studies show diversity in students identities and perceptions of the academy, their intrinsic desires for higher level study, the institutional pressures which affect them and their supervisors, and the degree to which they are able to integrate into the academic community (Ball et al, 2002, Clegg et al, 1999). The progression of Masters students also raises significant theoretical issues. There is an increasingly diverse literature about the nature of career decision making and career development. This work has two prime foci and Masters students experiences lie on the margins of both, offering a unique opportunity to explore the inter-relationships between them. Firstly, there is a growing body of work that explores the nature of career in late or post-modernity. For example, Arthur et al (1999) explore retrospectively the career patterns of 50 adults of various ages. Their study identifies the non-linear nature of many careers, and the different ways in which people can be proactive in their own career development. In a related way, Collin and Young (2000) argue for more attention to be paid to the subjective aspects of career, and its relational, political, rhetorical and ambivalent nature. Secondly, there is a significant body of research exploring the career decision making of young people, aged between 14 and 21. Though there are diverse and partially conflicting approaches to this issue, one broad body of theorising has been advanced and further developed in four separate studies. In relation to progression from school into youth training, Hodkinson et al. (1996, Hodkinson and Sparkes, 7

8 1997) developed a model of career decision making (Careership), drawing heavily upon the theorising of Pierre Bourdieu. This work explores the ways in which personal life histories, social interactions with others and wider social contexts interweave in the making of career choices and in the development of career progression. A second piece of research, tracking young people into, through and out of Further Education (FE), took this work further, and showed that people have changing and evolving learning careers (Bloomer and Hodkinson, 2000). That is, they develop dispositions towards learning (and career) that are shaped by and shape their changing identities, life history and position in society. Such learning careers can be transformed either by events inside formal education, or elsewhere in their lives. These changing dispositions to learning contribute to the construction of learning (or career) opportunities, and influence the ways in which young people approach them. Ball et al (2000), in a study of transition from school in one London Borough, found that many of the principles of Careership could also be identified in their sample, though in the light of their data they extended and modified the original model. In a further study (Ball et al, 2002, Ball, 2003, Reay et al, 2001) examined the ways in which young people made decisions about HE entry. In common with the other three studies, they found that issues of social background, including class, race and gender, were of great significance in the decision-making process. They also found that parts of the Careership model, such as the significance of pragmatically rational decision making, were replicated in this setting. There was a need to take the overlapping findings and theorising from these four projects, and further develop them in a new context. The progression of students into, through and beyond Masters degree programmes offered the ideal context in which to do this, whilst simultaneously extending the scope of the original four studies, into an older and possibly more mature age group. At the same time, an analysis of these studies raises some pertinent questions to guide the investigation of Masters students careers. In this study we have explored fulltime Masters students experiences of three periods of transition: first their paths into fulltime study including the role of University careers advice and guidance; second, their experiences of fulltime study on their Masters courses, including their developing career aspirations; third, their progression beyond the end of their courses, including their circumstances 18 months after graduation. The research began in August 2002 and finished in July In the first phase we examined in detail the ways in which Masters students chose their courses, their experiences on those courses, and their developing perceptions and plans for the future. In the second phase we investigated their experiences after graduating, with a specific emphasis on employment and employability. This report brings together the findings from both phases of the study. Aims and Objectives These were the aims, objectives and questions that orientated the research: 8

9 Aims To generate empirical evidence about the career development of full-time Masters degree students in the UK, prior to, during and beyond their course of study. To apply and test the theories of careership and learning careers in relation to Masters degree students. To aid policy makers and providers in the provision of guidance and support for UKbased Masters students, into, through and beyond their HE-based studies. Objectives To develop a greater understanding of Masters students motivations and learner identities. To identify significant factors which impact upon their learner identities, career decisions and transitions. To identify linkages between Masters degree study and labour market destinations. To propose recommendations for policy and practice, particularly in relation to the role of HE guidance provision for this group and their employers. Research Questions 1. Why do UK students embark upon full-time Masters Degree studies? What factors influenced their decision to join such a course? 2. How did the previous life histories of the students contribute to their decisions to enroll on these courses, and how do they influence their dispositions towards their studies and future careers? 3. What career plans did the students have upon joining the course? How, if at all, do those career plans change during the course, and why? 4. How does their changing career, through and after the Masters course, influence their sense of identity, and vice versa? 5. To what extent do factors inside and outside the HE institution contribute to students experiences of the course? 6. How significant are wider social factors, such as gender, ethnicity and class, in shaping students sense of identity, and the nature of their developing occupational and learning careers? 7. How do the students experience the transition from the course into whatever comes next (domestic life, employment, unemployment, voluntary work etc.)? What factors contribute to the nature of that transition? 8. How do students learning/employment careers develop over the period after leaving the course? To what extent does their educational experience relate to their future careers? 9. What use do students make of guidance provision, before, during and after their course? What factors influence their access to such guidance, and its perceived value to them? 9

10 10. How are these postgraduate students viewed and received by influential others in their lives, such as relatives, careers advisers and employers? Methodology This was a qualitative project, developing in-depth case studies of 24 students across six Masters courses in two universities. The post-1992 university, given the pseudonym Provincial, had 1,195 fulltime postgraduates at the start of the study, from a total student population of 50,345. The pre-1992 university, given the pseudonym Redbrick, had 5,920 fulltime postgraduates from a total student population of 35, 570. Both institutions were in the North of England. We conducted semi-structured interviews with the students and with other people significantly involved in the students career development. These significant others included partners, family members, university careers advisers, personal tutors and employers. In addition, we interviewed the course director from each of the six Masters courses we recruited students from and one senior staff member from the careers service at each of the two universities. The courses The six Masters courses we used are listed below. All last one year (September to August) in the fulltime mode. Graphic Art and Business were located in Redbrick university, the rest in Provincial university. Course names have been slightly changed to preserve confidentiality. The sample was predominantly a purposive one, reflecting an established typology of degree courses. The larger number of courses in the study from Redbrick University roughly reflects the proportion of taught masters students in the two institutions. Vocational courses linked to or required for a specialised occupation: Interpreting for skilled linguists to train them in interpreting. Funding is available from the AHRB through individual applications supported by the department. Fees 4,800. Applied Sciences strongly linked with industry. Has circa 7 student bursaries provided annually by NERC, distributed at the discretion of the course director. Fees 2,870. Semi-vocational courses relating to a broad occupational area Graphic Art aimed at those with an established, or those aspiring to establish a practice. Funded by AHRB through individual student applications supported by the department. Fees 2,700. Business a conversion course for those who haven t studied the subject before. Self-funding students can apply for a career development loan from banks. Fees 4,

11 Non-vocational courses Philosophy mainly attracts students from Redbrick s undergraduate degree programmes. Fees 2,870. Classics mainly attracts undergraduates from the same university into a broad postgraduate programme. Fees 2,870. The Students We recruited four students from each Masters course following an initial interview with the course director. As well as seeking a broadly representative sample in terms of age, gender and ethnicity, we also deliberately targeted some atypical individuals. This gives us a total of 24 fulltime Masters students, 12 men and 12 women. All 24 were aged between 21 and 28 at the time of their first interview. One student is Indian UK and all the rest are white UK. None of the students is disabled. Twenty of the students come from and went to school in the North of the UK. Eleven went to comprehensive schools in the state sector and the other 13 went to private, independent or Grammar schools. 18 of the students stayed on at their school sixth form. The other six went to Sixth Form or Further Education colleges. Only one student did not carry on with fulltime study at age 18. We have completed four sweeps of interviews with these students, one early in their first term on the Masters course, and the second towards the end of the third and final term. The third sweep took place 6-9 months after they left their courses and the fourth months after the courses had finished. Insights from each sweep were used to prepare for the subsequent rounds of interviews. This helped generate a deeper understanding of the students, as well as providing evidence of any changes over the two and a half years that we had contact with them. In total we conducted: 93 interviews with students (two students were interviewed once between two sweeps, and we lost contact with one student after the second interview) 41 interviews with significant others (including 6 employers) 6 interviews with course directors 3 interviews with HE careers advisers 4 interviews with employers (not significant others) This gives a total of 146 interviews, all of which were tape recorded and transcribed. Analysis This data was analysed at three levels. First, we worked to construct individual stories for each of the 24 students. For these narratives, we drew on interviews with significant others, as well as those with the students. Second, we analysed each course, drawing upon the detailed stories of the four students, supplemented by tutor interviews, and by documentary evidence, such as course prospectuses, and student handbooks. Finally, we analysed the data as a whole, in order to focus on Masters students as a category. In both the second and third level of analysis, we concentrated on similarities and differences within and between individuals and groups. Early findings were shared with invited practitioners and researchers in three workshops, three conference presentations and a dissemination event, which helped further refine our thinking. 11

12 Difficulties encountered in the research We experienced few problems with the research, and work proceeded broadly as planned. It took time to get access and permission at the post-1992 university, so interviews with students from these courses were conducted towards the end of each sweep. We have found it difficult to interview a significant other for every student (41 instead of 50 as originally intended). Some parents and partners weren t available, some interviewees were reluctant to agree to other people being interviewed and some of the course tutors in the post 1992 university have not responded to repeated requests for interviews. Taking the research as a whole, this reduced sample has not impaired our ability to meet the aims and objectives of the project. The structure of the report The next three chapters describe what happened to the students, taking each major stage separately. Chapter 3 is concerned with their entry onto the Masters courses, chapter 4 with their experiences on those courses, and chapter 5 with what happened after they left. Writing in this way created two problems. Firstly, individual students tend to disappear as people. Secondly, it made it difficult to keep a holistic view of their learning and career progression across these three stages. For this reason, we have interspersed 11 individual stories throughout these three chapters. These stories are boxed in the text, so that they do not disrupt the flow of the argument in the chapter where they are located. However, they are an important part of the Report, and we hope that readers will fully engage with them. We have tried to locate each story so that part of it relates to the issues being raised in that part of the chapter, but all of them go beyond this link and all of them have relevance for other chapters too. Our hope is that the cumulative experience of reading these stories will give a clear sense of some of the 24 students as people, and will help readers understand the student experiences upon which our themes and findings are developed. In chapters 3 and 4 we tend to write about our research subjects as students, because that is what they were. However, in the issues dealt with in chapter 5, most have ceased being students. Therefore, in that chapter and the ones that follow we use the term young people, unless we wish to explicitly focus on student life and experiences. After these three descriptive chapters, we develop two major themes from the findings. In chapter 6, we examine issues of inequality and difference, mainly, but not exclusively, around issues of social class. In chapter 7, we address ways of understanding career progression and the transition from education into employment. In so doing, we develop and change the Careership theory, and argue that it may be more helpful to understand career progression as an on-going learning process. The Report concludes, in chapter 8, by identifying implications for career guidance. Table 2.1, overleaf, lists the 24 students, with some key indicators of their changing progression routes. 12

13 Table 2.1: The Students Name First degree Masters At 3 rd Interview At 4 th Interview (bold: story) Adrian Philosophy Philosophy Government policy Local government policy fixed term officer. Fulltime permanent. David History/Philosophy Philosophy Army? Todd (p60) Philosophy Philosophy Temping Delivery driver fulltime permanent Jack (p56) English Philosophy Government policy fixed term Govt policy fixed term hoping for new venture + p/t Masters in policy. Linda (p16) English Classics Temping PhD fulltime with funding. Bob Classics Classics Advertising agency weekly contract Advertising agency fulltime permanent Della Classics Classics Temping Medical education looking for better job area. Ray Classics Classics Temping Press office (fixed term) hoping to do a PhD John (p53) Applied sciences Applied sciences Fulltime permanent, Internat. Company Fulltime permanent, same International Company Mark Applied Sciences Applied Sciences PhD with funding PhD fulltime with funding. Katharine Applied Sciences Applied Sciences Research associate PhD fulltime with funding (p58) Alice (p18) Applied Sciences Applied Sciences Temping Fulltime permanent Project engineer Geoff (p14) Art and Design Art and Design Shoe shop Fulltime permanent Photographer Karen Art and Design Art and Design Temping PGCE secondary looking for teaching posts. Jodie (p30) Art and Design Art and Design Fulltime permanent Manager of Cinema Manager of Cinema, pregnant. Gary Art and Design Art and Design Call centre P/t tutor and PhD with funding Stephen Classics Business Temping Fulltime permanent Estate Agent Elizabeth (p35) Forensic Psychology Business Temping Research assistant - 2 fixed term posts Jane Law Business Temping trainee stockbroker Graduate management training scheme pensions Sharmin Social Science Business Part-time retail work Part-time retail work Vic (p33) Modern Languages Interpreting Temp. Restaurant manager Fulltime MA in International Human Rights Caroline Modern Languages Interpreting Freelance interpreting & translating Freelance interpreting and translating abroad. Beth Modern Languages Interpreting EC insertion scheme fixed term Sophia Modern Languages Interpreting EC Insertion (p28) scheme fixed term Freelance interpreting and translating abroad. Freelance interpreting and translating abroad. Return to contents 13

14 3. Entry onto the Masters courses Three types of career transition into Masters courses Our first interviews with the students focused on their decision-making before entry to the Masters course, in the context of their previous experiences and broader lives. We identified three types of career transition: staying on, moving on and coming back. We discuss each of these in turn using quotes from the students interviews. We have also included summary stories of individual students experiences in the report for the reader to refer to throughout. Staying on 11 students, across all courses except business conversion, were staying on at the same university to do a Masters course in the same subject as their first degree. These students, like Geoff (p14), were positively confirming previously established lifestyles and desired identities. In doing the Masters they were seeking to continue these lifestyles, with an increased focus on their academic studies. They felt no need to initiate a change at the end of their first degree. Some explicitly sought to avoid or at least postpone a major transition such as entry into the labour market. So as soon as I got here and as soon as I realised that I liked the place and I was still enjoying my subject I just thought well everyone has got a degree so I might as well do an MA. And also because I had always hoped, I don't want to sound cocky but I always thought I would do well out of it and it just seemed like a logical progression. (Ray Classics) For this group continuing their studies was a natural extension of their first degree. This was similar to the non decision (Ball et al., 2002, Du Bois Reymond, 1998) of going to University at 18 that several of them also described. Formal education had been a central facet of their existence for much of their lives. And what prompted you to start considering the Masters? Um unwillingness to get a job. The fact that I d been in education since I was 5 and I didn t really know anything else. I thought the stuff was quite interesting and sort of the department I was in was quite a nice department, reasonably reputable, quite friendly, that sort of stuff. (Adrian Philosophy) Geoff s story Geoff moved straight from his foundation year into his degree and then onto his Masters in Graphic Art. He had to fund himself to do his Masters but felt it was an important step to try and get him a better career in the area in which he was starting to excel, photography. He spent a lot of time with his established network of friends who work in creative fields including playing music locally. Geoff, his girlfriend and their group of friends all continued to live close by during the Masters year. Over this time Geoff moved away from his 14

15 work on industrial landscapes towards portraiture, helped by two influential tutors. As Geoff s skills in portraiture developed he was invited to spend a day doing a fashion shoot in London, and following this experience started to do studio shoots and publicity material for friends in bands and businesses related to music around the city. Geoff s parents helped him financially by paying his fees. However, throughout his degrees Geoff also worked part-time in retail outlets. During the Masters year he worked for a well-known high street shoe store and once he d finished his Masters he was promoted to a management position. This work involved a lot of customer service and a substantial amount of work with children and families. Geoff decided to use his job to save money, so he could travel before looking for work in photography. Although he did look in certain trade magazines and the national press he was concerned that a lot of the jobs were advertised in London. He was not attracted to the few vacancies he saw, and doubted that he would be able to get a post if he applied. During the December after finishing his course Geoff bumped into a friend from his first degree. She told him that there was a vacancy coming up in the photography business she worked in and said that, of all the people she knew from the first degree, she would recommend him for the job. Geoff looked out for the advert but was doubtful about whether he would be right for the job or whether the job would be right for him. Eventually, after some persuading, Geoff sent off his application. Geoff s first interview went well. His partner had had interview experience and was able to talk him through likely questions and help him practise his responses. In the interview he was able to talk about his customer service experience, especially working with children and families, drawing on his experience in the shoe shop. Towards the end of the interview he went through his portfolio showing his progression into portraiture. The combination of his experiences in the creative and business fields made him a strong candidate and he was invited for a second interview. The second interview was a trial day where he helped out with photography sessions and had a chat with the owner of the firm. He was able to show his photography and lighting skills in practice as well as his ability to interact with other practitioners and members of the public, crucially helping the latter to relax in front of the camera. Geoff was appointed to a fulltime permanent position. The firm offers an in-house certificate and diploma in professional photography as part of all trainees progression to higher earnings and other opportunities within the company. Geoff has already been approached to develop in the management side of the firm but instead he has expressed an interest in training new recruits. He has also won an award for a highly commended photograph that is now used in the company s promotional brochure. Geoff s tutors helped him to develop his confidence in photography by aiding him to develop his technical skills and abilities. Geoff was active in using these skills in setting up sessions with friends and strangers. His developing technical expertise was underpinned by his research into other artists approaches. He was particularly interested in the work of a wellknown photographer, who uses props in street sessions with the public. Geoff worked hard in his job and used the skills he had gained in retail in the application and interview procedure. He was, however, unsure about his capacity to gain employment in photography. He did not know what to look for or where to look. He was convinced that the type of company he applied for did not exist and even when he found out about it and the opportunity available, he half convinced himself that it wouldn t be right for him. Once he got the job Geoff and his girlfriend decided to live together and to travel on paid holidays rather than taking time out of employment to travel. At the time of the fourth 15

16 interview they were looking for a house to buy locally and she was thinking about leaving her job to do a PGCE and move into teaching. Five students staying on felt that they had unfinished intellectual or creative business, from their first degree, and needed another year to develop in their subject. All of them talked with passion about their interest in their subjects and their desire to take their studies further. Some felt a sense of loyalty to the course staff. Others were keen to carry on studying with people they knew, in an institution they knew, living amongst their friends. Tutors were influential in encouraging students to stay on. What sort of factors, incidents or people helped you in particular in coming to your decision to do the Masters? And staying to do it here. Tutors definitely. [the] Head of the course my personal tutor, yeah just tutors who just said don't worry about it you are in the right place and you are on a roll and keep going, and just very reassuring. (Gary Graphic Art) Four of these students were hoping to move into work in a specific industry or area following their Masters. All students described the need to re-present themselves to others to justify doing the Masters course, often in terms of hoped for improved job prospects. Many of these students expressed some anxiety about their age and having to take the opportunities to study and travel now, before they start their careers. Their capacity to fund a fulltime course, often through parental support, afforded them the opportunity to do now what might later be impossible. Well basically because I have never known what I wanted to do afterwards. And I was still enjoying my course studying Classics so I thought it would be nice to keep going with it. I think my parents were quite keen for me to do a Masters rather than taking a couple of years off and come back to it. I figured I may as well get it all done in one fell swoop. (Bob Classics) Linda s story Linda moved from her independent school to study English at the University in her home town. During her second year of her degree she went to see a Careers Adviser to discuss her options. She was becoming increasingly interested in the Greek epic through a module she was studying and was starting to think about the work she could hope to pursue after graduating. After this meeting she managed to organise some work experience in archiving. Although she enjoyed this and found it interesting, she found the work environment quiet and stuffy. She didn t want to appear ageist but she did not enjoy working with only two people, both of whom were over 50. This wasn t the dynamic working environment that Linda was hoping for. She did apply, unsuccessfully, for some apprenticeships in archiving, but she started to feel that working environment should be as important as job interest. The brochures for a Law conversion course showed groups of young people working out in a gym, which Linda felt was more akin to her lifestyle aspirations. However, in order to afford to do the Law course she would have had to find a part-time job. Through all this period she had also considered doing a Masters in Classics and had found a University that would Return to contents 16

17 accept her with a degree in English. She decided to apply for the Masters even though she was still undecided about what she really wanted to do. At the same time she had become more attracted to the idea of working because she was getting bored with being poor. Once she had been accepted onto the Masters course Linda continued to look for jobs. She was looking for anything, including the lowest of the low, when she suddenly decided that she didn t want to find work and instead she would go ahead and do the course. Linda didn t want to rush into anything professional in case she came to the end of it and realised that she didn t want to do it after all. She felt that although Classics isn t vocational as such, if she wanted to specialise after the course she still could. She graduated with a 2:1 In English and took her place on the Masters course that was closest to her parental home, so that she could afford to commute and study. Linda s tutors were very impressed with her written assignments and it quickly became obvious that she was a skilled linguist. After three months on the Masters course Linda s tutor asked her to consider doing a PhD. This was the only circumstance in which Linda could envisage herself thinking about doing a doctorate if she was asked to. However, she was not keen to study fulltime without a break. Instead she decided to consider her options while working to save enough money to take an extended holiday with her partner, who was also planning to do a PhD a year after finishing his Masters course. Linda got a distinction on her Masters degree. After finishing her course she had arranged to do some work experience with a local newspaper. She only stayed for a day, though, because she felt she was treated like a school leaver rather than a graduate. She then worked part-time in a pet shop, which she found equally frustrating, leaving after two weeks. She then found work temping. She also started to develop her ideas for her PhD in collaboration with tutors from both her undergraduate institution and the University where she did her Masters. She took time away from temping work to concentrate on submitting her proposal but she could not make sufficient links between her two areas of interest to make a joint application. She eventually applied for funding through the institution where she did her Masters. She was unsuccessful in gaining research council funding but managed to get a university bursary and started her PhD a year after finishing her Masters course. By the fourth interview Linda had done some tutoring work at the University and was starting to develop her PhD research. She and her partner had moved to live together and were both doing their doctorates, at different institutions in different subject areas. She was enjoying her subject but Linda didn t feel that she wanted to stay in academia, as she didn t feel she had enough interest in her subject to pursue research beyond the PhD. She explained that since her partner would be looking for lecturing posts it would be best if she developed some more transferable skills, since they were unlikely to both find work lecturing. Linda said that they both felt she would stop working after having children and that it made sense for him to have the best job and that she wouldn t mind as long as [she] enjoy[s] what [she s] doing. Moving On Four students had changed institution or subject, initiating a transition in a different career direction. A complex combination of social, cultural, economic and personal factors influenced their decisions. Return to contents 17

18 This all started because obviously doing an English Degree, Classics wasn t the first thing I thought of but I d been doing a course in Homer in translation, which I found really interesting and I kind of wanted to pursue that. And I kind of did look into doing it [where I was], you know, as a research MA, or something, but there was no-one really qualified to actually teach it and it turned out that I couldn t really do it as an English degree. So you know just to pursue that I started to look at Classics. (Linda Classics) My boyfriend was applying to do a degree but he has only got two A-Levels so they said no we can't take you. So he applied here for the HND and he got accepted. So then we were discussing what shall we do then.... And I thought well I will have a look and see what [they] offer first before I accept the one in [another university]. (Elizabeth Business) All four of these students had initiated a change in their circumstances. Yet although the courses they were taking at Masters level might at first appear to have been the central core of these changes, social, cultural, economic and personal factors were also important, as the students made sense of their options. Alice s Story Alice made a simple transition from school to university. She never considered anything else. The comprehensive school she attended was academically successful, and geared up for HE progression. She wanted to leave home, in Scotland, and live somewhere else, liked the northern English city where her chosen university was located, and was attracted by the offer of a four year MSc course in her preferred subject. Instead of finishing her four-year MSc at her first university, Alice decided to leave after about 6 weeks of her fourth year, with a BSc. Things had gone wrong when she returned from voluntary work abroad. The charity went bankrupt, and she had to raise money to pay off debts. Also, the course had been, in her words, a bit chaotic, as it was the first year it had been run. After leaving her course, Alice did a variety of jobs in different locations. Over the period of a year she did temping work in a bank and in a pensions office, which she hated, and worked as a fieldwork instructor, which she loved but which did not pay well. Alice then considered two career options teaching and applied sciences. Her mother was a teacher, but warned Alice against it. Applied sciences appealed because of the subject content and a sense of unfinished business from the uncompleted MSc. Alice decided on the Masters, as she could always turn to teaching later. She thought that a different, more industryfocussed Masters course would bring better job prospects. Redbrick was one of only a few places offering this type of Masters degree, and she had heard good things about the city. She liked the course director on interview, was accepted on the course and got funding, which was in his gift. She looked forward to the course, even though she was apprehensive about the workload. It s a year and then that s me. Make or break time, see what happens. She wanted to work in the field in the targeted industry, and saw the course as the route to do that. Alice made friends on the course, but was surprised by the small number of women. There were a few from overseas and only one other from the UK. The first term went fairly well, apart from struggling with maths, which she eventually passed. However, after Christmas, Alice faced four problems. Firstly, like other women on the 18

19 course, she felt excluded by the masculine culture which, they felt, discriminated against and marginalised women. Second, she wanted to do fieldwork for her dissertation, but it was proving very difficult. There were problems over transport, equipment kept breaking down, it took too much time (partly because she and another woman were helping each other, so they needed time to do two projects) and the equipment was too heavy for them to handle. Thirdly, she was getting behind with assignments especially the fieldwork. Fourthly, she had had time off the course for medical reasons. When interviewed towards the end of her course, Alice had decided that she did not want to work in the target industry. She was put off by the likelihood that it would involve the same macho culture, which would isolate and exclude her. She also felt that there weren t the opportunities in the industry that she had thought were available when she started the Masters. Faced with all this, Alice did not turn to teaching. She decided she wanted to work with children and go straight into a job to pay off her debts. She could not face another year as a fulltime student, doing a PGCE. She was also worried about repeating what she saw as her mistake in doing the Masters course. She talked of au pairing as a career. She was determined to leave the University as soon as the course was finished. In two months time I m leaving this building and never coming back. Alice s relationship with the course and the related industry caused her considerable anxiety, making it difficult for her to manage a career transition that involved rejecting this previously chosen route. Alice had to rely heavily on her battered self esteem to help her to move from one idealised notion of the future as an applied science field worker, to another; a fulfilling career as a professional au pair. Making this move took considerable courage and drew on Alice s personal resources as an active pursuer of her perceived goals. She sought no professional advice and guidance and had a somewhat narrow understanding of the opportunities available to her. Alice was prepared to take a bold step into the unknown. As her sister said, Alice just does things, you know. she just picks up and goes and does. The position as a nanny fell through at the last minute and Alice ended up leaving her course early and moving back to her parents home in Scotland. She found temping work locally and started the application procedure for a PGCE, while half-heartedly attempting to complete her Masters. Her circumstances were difficult and she was under some pressure to find work that would use her qualifications. Then, in the February after leaving the course, Alice was invited to an interview with an engineering firm to whom she d sent her CV speculatively some nine months previously. She made sure that she didn t need the Masters qualification to get the job. In the interview she was able to use her negative experiences in her fieldwork to show how she could problemsolve. She got the job and the firm offered to allow her time to complete the Masters. She took the post but decided to concentrate on her work rather than trying to study part-time as well. By the fourth interview she was living in England, working fulltime as a project engineer. Coming back Nine students returned to HE to do a Masters after a period in employment. Their decisions, like Alice s (above), were often driven by dissatisfaction with their experiences in the labour market, and a desire to find more fulfilling and/or highstatus work. Return to contents 19

20 one of the problems last year was that I was being a secretary and suddenly I was this lonely little secretary with all the clever people...suddenly I was this nothing in the company, you know, seen as probably a bit thick. It was weird. I had never been in that kind of situation before. There is a real hierarchy that you get in these great big companies. (Beth Interpreting) Those students who had gone into graduate level work upon completion of their first degree described some frustration with their work experiences and the labour market circumstances which had forced them into considering the Masters. These students had experienced the broader structural influences of labour markets on their opportunities. Some had experienced the graduate labour market and found it wanting. These experiences distinguished the students who had come back to do their Masters from those who had stayed on or moved on. Common Experiences There were some similarities between the students. All were engaged in an on-going process of identity formation, and choosing the Masters was one way of attempting to take some control of this. Financial considerations were also important for all, but differed according to individual circumstances. Most students were self - funding, although in practice many parents contributed heavily. Taken as a whole, the students came from predominantly middle class backgrounds, with significant levels of cultural and economic capital (see chapter 6). This influenced both the ways in which they saw the world, and their ability to follow a Masters degree programme. They were continuing within, or returning to, a world in which they already knew how to succeed. Despite some serious personal concerns about the future, most seemed to believe that further success in education would, or at least should, lead to a fulfilling, worthwhile career of appropriate (relatively high) social status. For most, earning very large salaries was relatively unimportant, whereas gaining an advantage in the graduate labour market, through acquiring the Masters credential, was key. All the students experienced time pressures in their final year of their first degree. Concentrating on finishing the degree and maintaining their standard of work meant that future concerns including job hunting and pursuing a career were postponed by most. It is also important to note that our students had done broadly non-vocational first degrees. This was unsurprising since students from narrowly vocationally orientated first degrees tend to go into work rather than go on to Masters level study. Nine of the students had gone into work after graduation from their first degree. Four had specific work or study experiences that contributed to their choice to carry on into the Masters and the other five, like Alice, had had a variety of jobs unrelated to the field they wanted to go into. The role of guidance on entry to the Masters Courses Here we draw together the students perceptions and experiences of guidance, with the views of some guidance providers (two from the universities in the study, and two nominated by students as significant others). We have interpreted provision 20

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