Employment-Lifestyle-Location: Future plans of post-secondary students in Harstad Norway and Letterkenny Ireland

Gordon B. Cooke


This study compares survey results from 330 students from Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT) County Donegal, Ireland, and 123 students at Harstad University College (HUC) in Harstad, Troms, Norway, gathered between 2013 and 2015.  Both post-secondary institutions are in, or near, relatively small and remote communities and draw in students from the surrounding ‘rural’ areas, although those labels can be controversial.  The purpose of this study is to explore the expectations and preferences that rural post-secondary education (PSE) students, at these two institutions, have in terms of future employment and location plans, as well as the relative importance of the factors affecting those decisions.  The reality of contemporary labour markets is that skilled workers have a much smoother transition to good quality employment, on average, than their lesser-skilled counterparts.  But, being in a relatively rural and/or remote location adds extra decision-making complexity. In terms of findings, 7% of the students surveyed at LYIT were international, compared to 15% of those surveyed at HUC, and a sizable minority of these students are now expecting and preferring to stay and work in their host country, although not necessarily in or around Donegal or Troms in particular.  All else equal, this is a benefit for the region surrounding the post-secondary institution.  On the other hand, the expectations and preferences of domestic students can be somewhat different.  Two thirds of local students expect to work locally (i.e. in or around Donegal or Troms) after completing their post-secondary education, but others expect and/or prefer to out-migrate.  Fortunately, from a rural sustainability and economic development perspective, that is offset by the other cohort of domestic students (with a ‘non-local’ hometown) who are now expecting to stay and work in the vicinity around LYIT or HUC.  The vast majority of individuals surveyed at these two rural PSE institutions view living in a big city as being relatively unimportant.  Thus, it can be inferred that many of these would prefer, or at least accept, living in a rural (or commuter) location, if local employment opportunities are acceptable.  Both surveys indicated that having the opportunity for advancement, and to a lesser extent, salary, is more important. The challenge is to ensure that those wanting to be in a specific rural and remote area, regardless of hometown origin, have opportunities to stay and thrive.