Island Narratives: the role of the sea in the construction of higher education and migration choices of young people in Orkney and Shetland

Rosie Alexander

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


This paper will introduce a research project looking at the narratives of the northern isles and how these impact on the individual career and migration choices of island young people pursuing higher education. Migration patterns of young people in coastal communities have previously been researched by Corbett (2007) in Atlantic Canada. In his research he showed how the structure of the fishing industry created certain career opportunities and labour market conditions that influenced individual young people’s decisions to stay or leave the community. Orkney and Shetland in the twenty first century retain a reliance on the sea in terms of traditional industries such as fishing, and newer resource extracting industries such as oil and gas and, recently, renewable energy. In addition, and unlike the community studied by Corbett, Orkney and Shetland are islands, and therefore the sea not only provides a source of income but also acts as a clear boundary between these islands and other communities. This paper will present the findings of recent research that demonstrates the impact of this boundary in the narratives of graduates who have returned to the Orkney islands – with graduates commonly structuring their narratives around the dichotomous terms ‘home’ and ‘south’ (Alexander, 2013). Alongside presenting the findings of this previous research project, this paper will also introduce a new research project which aims to identify how living in the Orkney and Shetland Islands prior to higher education impacts on students’ narratives of their higher education and subsequent career journeys. The paper will propose that in Orkney and Shetland, the sea impacts on the way young people construct their careers, their choices of higher education and their subsequent migration patterns.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 11 Apr 2014
Event2nd St Magnus Conference - Islesburgh Centre Lerwick, Lerwick, United Kingdom
Duration: 9 Apr 201412 Apr 2014


Conference2nd St Magnus Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Orkney
  • Shetland
  • Graduate
  • Higher Education
  • Employment
  • Sea
  • Narrative
  • Career
  • Migration


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