Struggles and Strategies: Interrogating linear and non-linear transitions from higher education into the labour market

The Australian labour market has continued to see an increase in occupations that require a bachelor's degree, a trend forecasted by policy makers to continue. Because of this, widening participation has become central to strategies for Australia's ongoing prosperity, as it is necessary to draw from a wider population base to supply this demand. However it is unclear how students, particularly from non-traditional backgrounds, navigate into and through the university, and subsequently into what has become a precarious labour market. In this context, the notion of 'transition' through secondary and tertiary studies into full-time employment is problematic. It implies that moving through education and into the workforce is a stable, linear and smooth experience. This symposium will recontextualise these assumptions by focusing on the ways people struggle with and strategise for the risks and affordances they are faced with, where inequality is rising despite increased participation in higher education; the University has undergone neoliberal transformations that have reinvented student experiences and labour market precariousness is the norm.

This symposium draws from studies being conducted across three Australian universities with the aim of understanding the struggles that surround entering higher education and developing strategies to successfully enter the labour market. It will investigate the ways students and potential students in contrasting academic disciplines balance the demands of part time work, study and family commitments whilst drawing upon their existing networks and possessions (cars, computers etc.). It will also consider how access to advice, work placement and internships influence strategies and struggles in the trajectory from higher education into the labour force. These studies 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 students take up to navigate from education to work (and from education/casual work to full time work) in terms of aspiration-formation and becoming as non-linear formations of struggle. As inequality increases despite greater engagement in higher education, these issues require conceptualisation, close attention and explanation.