We asked Northern Ireland's 16-year-olds about their ambitions to go abroad for study, travel and work. Dr Dirk Schubotz, who directed the research, explains their answers.
Northern Ireland is no stranger to emigration. Due to the Northern Ireland conflict – the so-called ‘Troubles’ – people from both sides of the divide sought a more peaceful future elsewhere. In fact, many cross-community projects, such as the Ulster Project, took young people away. The change of scenery often helped to create a distance from the conflict, giving space for reflection and possibly contributing to mutual understanding.
With the peace process, many Northern Irish people have returned home. Today, Northern Ireland has become an attractive place for migrants from Eastern and Southern Europe and elsewhere, who are themselves trying to escape war or poverty and seek a more prosperous future.
But how do young Northern Irish people feel about internationalisation today? Have attitudes changed with the peace process? And what about languages? Traditionally, Irish migrants tended to travel to other English-speaking regions. Is there a desire to learn other languages now? We asked Northern Ireland's 16-year-olds, and about 1,200 of them completed our Young Life and Times (YLT) survey. Nearly 50 took part in follow-up focus groups.
At regular intervals, YLT had previously asked young people whether they intended to leave Northern Ireland and whether or not they thought they would move back to Northern Ireland. In 2014, 55 per cent of respondents said they planned to leave. The three main reasons were to seek a better future in general (41 per cent); to study (35 per cent) and to work (30 per cent). However, 41 per cent of those who said they would leave thought they would eventually move back to Northern Ireland.
For our most recent survey at the end of 2015, over 60 per cent of 16-year-olds who completed it said they would consider working abroad; and 57 per cent said they considered going abroad for an apprenticeship or internship. This suggests that there is a strong desire among young people to travel overseas.
Girls were much more likely than boys to say that they would consider studying or doing an apprenticeship/internship abroad. However, there was no gender difference in relation to working abroad.
There is a difference between rural and urban kids
Those who said they lived on a farm or in the countryside were less likely to say that they considered leaving the UK in general than those from urban backgrounds. They were less likely to have the ambition to leave the UK for study or work, although one in two still did. They also felt the least need to learn another language.
A plausible explanation for this difference is that young people involved in farming probably anticipated the need to remain on their parental farms, and also came from families that had less experience of travel because of year-round farming commitments.
Religion and sexual orientation
There was no difference between Catholics’ and Protestants’ ambitions to leave, but those who were same-sex-attracted were most likely to say they would go. Perhaps this is a reflection of where Northern Irish society is - more tolerant now, but still strongly shaped by sometimes very conservative religious views.
What we found out during the focus groups
Through the survey, we found out that most 16-year-olds thought additional languages were beneficial. Almost two thirds said that leisure and travel were reasons for learning one. A bit more than half felt that another language would be useful for working abroad, whilst one third of respondents thought it would be useful for studying.