Re-engagement with education throughout the life course

Youth Research Centre Seminar Series 2018

Presented by Dr Jenny Chesters, Associate Professor Hernan Cuervo and Dr Eric Fu, Youth Research Centre, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne

Given the current interest in the future of work and the pressure to develop one’s own career, this examination of re-engagement with education throughout the life course is timely. Research shows that some people return to education to gain higher level qualifications, others undertake study at the same level in a different field, and yet others undertake study for a lower level qualification. As the Australian labour market restructures and the pace of technological advances quickens, reskilling and up-skilling are now required for sustained employability. Thus, many adults embark on further study after spending a period of time in the workforce. The most commonly cited reasons for returning to study include: seeking a promotion, seeking to change careers and seeking to re-enter the workforce after spending time caring for children. Understanding the patterns of re-engagement with education and the reasons why some people choose to re-engage whereas others do not, contributes to current policy debates about how education prepares Australians for life. We conduct analysis of longitudinal data collected by the Life Patterns Project from a cohort of people who completed school in 1991. Our data provide an opportunity to track the educational and occupational trajectories of our participants from 1991 to 2017. We can factor in the effects of parenthood, involuntary job loss and residential relocation. Our findings show that for some, returning to education provided an opportunity to enter occupations with higher levels of prestige. For others, returning to education allowed them to explore their capacity for academic achievement years after leaving secondary school. Overall, patterns of re-engagement suggest that maintaining open access to vocational education and training as well as to higher education is an important social justice issue that policy makers need to factor into their deliberations about funding of our education system.