Academic journal article Hecate

How Students Characterise the Vocational Gains from Women's Studies (or, Why We Need Not Be Anxious)

Academic journal article Hecate

How Students Characterise the Vocational Gains from Women's Studies (or, Why We Need Not Be Anxious)

Article excerpt

Introduction

How women's studies programmes relate to students' postgraduation career and employment aspirations has been a largely under-researched issue. While some attention has been given to tracking women's studies graduates,1 surprisingly little systematic consideration has been given to the specific career and vocational plans of students entering (or leaving) women's studies classrooms.2 There are two reasons why this issue needs to be examined in more detail. Firstly, the new consumerist logic of western higher education systems has replaced the liberal ideal of education as a public investment in a wider social good with one in which education is an investment individuals make in themselves and their own futures, a way of buttressing themselves against risk and uncertainty.3 This has sponsored an increasing preoccupation with the post-graduation 'marketability' of individual fields of study, together with the production of new hierarchies of regard among academic disciplines. Students are encouraged by the media, educational institutions, and families to opt for so-called Vocational pathways' that promise the best return on their investment in higher education; subjects perceived to have strong, identifiable links to specific labour market opportunities are routinely deemed by commentators, institutions and students alike to be more 'relevant' and 'rewarding' for graduates' future working lives. Within this educational environment - one in which Vocational relevance' operates as a central measure of value - the notion of women's studies as holding little or no vocational potential for its graduates circulates with axiomatic force. These characterisations typically stress the 'poor' or 'risky' choice the field may represent for students.

A second and intimately related factor is the rapidly changing nature of the labour market these students now face. In the new deregulated and 'flexible' employment marketplace, the once neat relationship assumed between qualifications and careers has been radically destabilised, together with the notion of education as providing a guaranteed 'gateway' to secure employment. So while the dominant messages that higher education institutions offer their students on the pathways from study to work continue to promote predictable outcomes and seamless, linear transitions, Lyn Yates4 argues that continuing to encourage students' selection of a single prescribed pathway solely because of its imagined utility for future work may be out of step with the current environment where a more flexible approach to postschool education and pathways is needed.

Against this background it seems timely to take up the term Vocational' and to consider anew how it might operate with respect to women's studies and how shifts in the broader social, economic and political contexts within which crucial education and employment decisions are being negotiated might offer the field new opportunities to challenge the ways in which individual study majors are currently evaluated for their 'utility'. I am interested in the long-term viability of women's studies as a formal program of study and believe that its future is intimately tied to our ability to engage actively with the rapid transformations currently taking place both within and beyond our institutions of higher education. Nicky Le Feuvre takes up this same point with respect to the new, large-scale European Union funded study examining the relationships between women's employment, women's studies and equal opportunities.5 While acknowledging the ambivalence with which women's studies practitioners frequently approach the 'emerging education market', she nevertheless argues that the 'future of women's studies will obviously depend, at least in part...on our willingness to present the professional trajectories of our graduates for public scrutiny'.6 She further contends that 'a better understanding of the links between our courses and qualifications and the labour market is essential for the elaboration of effective strategies to promote women's studies in countries where progress to date has been slow. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.