Elysha Ramage

Email: 2493373r@student.gla.ac.uk


Research title: Not going to university: Context based rationality with links to social class and rural location.

Research Summary

Inequality in access to higher education is a global phenomenon that is routinely examined by numerous international bodies such as the OECD (2008), the European Union (2014) and the World bank (2014) and by the academic community. Evidence that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, tend to be under represented in higher education vis-á-vis the national population has been routinely observed for high-income countries e.g. the US (Carneiro and Heckman 2002), UK (Chowdry, 2013), Ireland (Denny and Flannary 2017) and Portugal (Neves et al 2016), as well as middle-income countries such as Peru, Vietnam, India (Sanchez and Singh, 2016) and Mexico (Kaufman, 2014). Recent UK literature explores the possibility that the choice not to enter higher education can be consistent with rational behaviour given both the financial constraints facing working class students and the varying returns to higher education for different social classes (Findlay and Hermannsson, 2018). To further understand why working-class people, remain under-represented in HE and evaluate the impact of this, we need to further examine the participation choices, labour market options and outcomes facing qualified, young working-class people who do not choose higher education.

Complementary theoretical perspectives from economics, sociology and education are combined to inform how educational choices are informed by social class and labour market outcomes can be influenced by individual attributes (which themselves may arise from social class). 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 this case, government-funded low interest loans) 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 and its consequences. Early structural career theory (Roberts, 1968) would argue individuals are limited in their choices by the structural factors such as family, socio-economic background, gender and local labour market. Whilst this theory has been modernised to reflect uncertainty in the labour market, protracted education and individual choice it still asserts this choice is bounded (Roberts, 2009).

To complement the secondary data analysis which has underpinned the work of the supervisory team and a related Industry studentship currently under supervision this project will consist of:

1. A qualitative study of qualified young people which seeks to uncover the process of decision making which led them to choose direct entry to the labour market, and, to examine in detail the perceived consequences of this decision.

2. An exploration, based on the lived experience of the same group of qualified young people, of the broad range of attributes valued in the labour market beyond formal qualifications and how these are influenced by social origin.

The research questions are as follows:

  • What are the contributing factors to the career decision making process for an individual who has the required qualifications to progress directly to degree level study to choose an alternative route?
  • How do the lived experiences of the individuals two years on relate to their initial choices and goals?
  • How does the skill set of an individual develop and change over time?
  • How does socio-economic-status and rural location interact with career choices and the decision making process?

A longitudinal qualitative approach was used to collect primary data. In terms of this project, a sample of qualified young people who did not choose HE, from a range of backgrounds, were interviewed on their career decisions and factors influencing these decisions. In addition, the interview will include an exploration of non-academic attributes required to successfully navigate the labour market and obtain employment. Socio-economic background was defined by a combination of parental education, occupation, SMID ranking, and eligibility for free school meals. Semi-structured interviews provide a balance by giving the interviewee freedom to take the lead on discussions but also provide a structure to ensure the relevant information is collected. The interviews were analysed using thematic analysis to code textual data extracts and build themes to create a model which explores and understands the data.




Ramage, E. (2019). Career Decision Making in a Rural School. Journal of the National Institute for Career Education and Counselling, 42(1), 26-32.

Ramage, E (2018) What Career Researchers Research, Careers Matter

 Ramage, E (2018) Career Decision Making in a Rural School, Careers Matter


Career Development Institute, (November 2022) Guest speaker at "Practitioner Research Webinar: How to Collect Evidence"

Career Development Institute, (March 2022) Guest speaker at “Writing and dissemination CPD” workshop


Glasgow Economics Forum, (March 2022) Lecture on “Inequalities in Education”


University of Glasgow PGR Symposium, (March 2022) Presentation on “Not Going to University: Links to Social Class and Rural Location”


Edinburgh Napier University, University of the West of Scotland, Skills Development Scotland Career Guidance and Development CPD Conference (Jan 2022) Presentation on “Not Going to University: Links to Social Class and Rural Location”


Graduate Women Scotland (GWS) Annual Research Presentation Day (Dec 2021), presentation on “Not going to University: Links to Social Class and Rural Location”


University of Glasgow, PhD Life Symposium, October 2020, Presentation on “My PhD Life”


Edinburgh Naper University/University West of Scotland/Skills Development Scotland Symposium 2019 Workshop on “Career Decision Making in a Rural School”


University of the West of Scotland, Masters Career Guidance and Development Dissemination Event 2018 presentation on “Career Decision Making in a Rural School”


Associate Tutor (Department of Education, University of Glasgow) Feb 2022-Present

Additional Information

I am a fourth year part-time PhD student, studying alongside working and raising a family.  I work part-time as a school and post-school Career Coach for Skills Development Scotland and I therefore see myself as approaching this research from a researcher-practitioner perspective.  I am interested in the career-decision making behaviour of young people and the external and internal factors that influence these decisions.