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Out of step but stepping up? : following a group of students negotiating university and beyond.

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This study holistically explores the experiences at university and the effects of a university education for students at a South African university. Literature on students in higher education has generally been focused on ‘traditional’ students and graduates in the first world. This research advances understanding of students and graduates in a unique way. The study has used qualitative data generated from focus groups, extensive interviews, diaries and photographs of a small sample to uncover student narratives, which offer insights into the ways in which the participants negotiated their way through university, graduation and the early stages of their working lives. The participants showed evidence of remarkable resilience in navigating higher education and the job market without the requisite economic, cultural or social capital. Similar fortitude was also revealed in the attempts to fulfil the expectations of significant individuals and social groups. The findings from the research suggest that the impact of university education on social and economic mobility in the South African context is more complex than often assumed. The participants describe their unique positioning within inimical impulses of: progress and tradition, independence and belonging, conventional success and inner fulfilment. With regard to identity and emerging identities, the participants conveyed a need to create coherent links between their past, their present and their future selves. A sense of isolation emerged for the participants as a function of uneven and incomplete upward economic and social mobility, and the expectations of such mobility.


Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2015.


College graduates - Vocational guidance., College graduates - Employment., Theses - Sociology.