These current projects anchor Rebecca’s research at the crossroads of the sociology of education and work:

Right competence at the right time – but for whom?

Trajectories and aspirations within and beyond higher vocational education in Sweden

The aim of this study is to launch a mixed-methods examination of the social recruitment of participants into higher vocational education and their transition into the labor market. As one of the most recently established educational types in Sweden, higher vocational education (HVE, yrkeshögskolan) has undergone remarkable expansion in government investment over the last decade. The explicit focus of HVE is to equip training participants with the “right competence at the right time” in order for them to be integrated quickly into labor market segments where there is a need for workers.

Government interest in this segment of the education system has soared due to labor market challenges posed by immigration, ageing, and gender segregation in the labor market—all of which HVE may be able to mitigate. However, despite this interest and investment, little is still known about the efficacy of this educational policy device, particularly, the trajectories and aspirations of its students.

In this study, we draw on register data, interview data and archival material, combining approaches from sociology, demography and education to examine: processes of differentiation and selection in participation, how changes in participation are taking place alongside expansion and population changes, and how justifications for higher vocational education participation are enacted.

This project is funded by the Swedish Research Council. The project team consists of Rebecca Ye, Margarita Chudnovskaya and Erik Nylander

Publications (peer-reviewed) from this project:

Ye, Rebecca, Chudnovskaya, Margarita and Erik Nylander (2022). Right competence at the right time — but for whom? Social recruitment of participants in an expanding higher vocational education segment in Sweden (2005-2019). Adult Education Quarterly, 72(4), 380-400.

Chudnovskaya, Margarita, Erik Nylander, and Rebecca Ye. (2023). “Skills and adult educational choice: Gender (in)equality in a new form of Swedish vocational education”. In Tåhlin, M. (ed.). A Research Agenda for Skills and Inequality. Edward Elgar.

We have a collection of papers that are forthcoming and in progress that deal with geographical inequalities in participation in higher vocational education, as well as the changing conventions of skilling in Sweden. Please get in touch, if of interest.

Sponsoring mobility and the making of governmental elites

This project examines a specific type of education to work trajectory: one where students are selected early and sponsored to study abroad in elite universities, with the obligation to return to their home country to take on a vocation in the public service. It uses the case of Singapore, a country with a recruitment system into the public service that has prioritised academic credentials for technocratic leadership and that offers itself as a suitable site for interrogating institutional arrangements that shape the selection of governing elites. Empirically, it builds on in-depth interviews conducted with Singaporean undergraduates studying at Oxbridge and four decades of annual reporting data from the Commission that finances these journeys. The analyses focus on two aspects. First, interrogating the educational backgrounds of scholarship recipients and the strong institutional linkages that enabled the traversal of these elite, transnational pathways. Second, examining what kinds of higher educational trajectories have been funded by the state through the history of this scholarship programme and what the financing of these trajectories mean for the knowledge, skills and dispositions expected of future governing elites. The findings from this project contribute by providing insights on a specific case of state-sponsored mobility, while offering broader implications for how we understand the role of travelling scholarships in facilitating the acquisition of knowledge as recipients are schooled for governmental work.

Publications (peer-reviewed) from this project:

Ye, Rebecca (2022). Testing elite transnational education and contesting orders of worth in the face of a pandemic. Educational Review, 74(3), 704-719.

Ye, Rebecca (2021). Schooling for government: institutionalised sponsored mobility and trajectories of public service scholarship recipients in Singapore (1979-2018), Journal of Education and Work, 34(4), 518-532.

Ye, Rebecca and Erik Nylander. (2021). Deservedness, humbleness and chance: Conceptualisations of luck and academic success among Singaporean elite students. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 30(4): 401 – 421.

Ye, Rebecca (2016). Transnational Higher Education Strategies into and out of Singapore: Commodification and Consecration. TRANS: Trans-Regional and -National Studies of Southeast Asia, 4(1): 85-108.

Ye, Rebecca & Erik Nylander. (2015). The Transnational Track: State Sponsorship and Singapore’s Oxbridge Elite. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 36(1): 11-33.

The Transnational Track won the best early career researcher paper in the journal and has been subsequently included as a chapter in the following edited volumes:

Public sociology:

Ye, Rebecca (2021). Lucky in a meritocracy? Examining conceptualisations of luck and academic success in Singapore. AcademiaSG.

Ye, Rebecca (2020). Student migration during a global health pandemic. Discover Society.


Business Times. 2020. ‘Studying the hard truth about luck’ by Jamie Lee, featuring our research published in Ye & Nylander 2020

The Aspirants: How faith is built in emerging occupations

Anticipating future demands in skills and workforce development has been a longstanding practice and challenge for governments and policy-makers. While such developments are examined closely at the national and regional levels, an even more pressing issue is to advance our understanding of how people who take on jobs in new and emerging fields embark on and persist in their occupational pathways. A striking feature of these occupations is their weakly defined and unstable nature. How do individuals traverse career trajectories with these characteristics? What drives and enables them to take the road less travelled? To address these questions, this research project set off from a distinctive occupational school in Sweden that prepares individuals for emerging occupational roles in digital work. Using an interpretative, longitudinal, and multi-method approach, this study focuses on a group of aspirants who were being trained to become specialists in extracting, analysing, and using digital data for the growth and profit of organisations. These individuals can be viewed as experiencing a double “not-yet” situation, since not only are they at the stage of aspiring to certain work roles, but the occupations to which they aspire are also in a nascent, not yet fully defined stage. This study accompanies them through significant events over the years: from when they are in training, to when they search for jobs, and, finally, when they begin the work experience.

This doctoral dissertation was successfully defended in 2018.

Publications (peer-reviewed) from this project:

Ye, Rebecca. (2021). Rituals of vocational socialisation: faith-building in higher vocational education for weak-form occupational pathways. Vocations and Learning, 14, 353-368

Ye, Rebecca. (2020). Reality tests: navigating education to work transitions into weak-form occupations. Journal of Education and Work, 33(3), 242–253.


Veckans Affärer. 2019. ‘Forskning: Vinglig väg till yrken som ännu inte finns’. Media coverage and interview on Ye’s doctoral dissertation.

Other research

Among other research projects in the fields of sociology and education, Rebecca has also written and co-authored reports and texts on the professionalisation of adult educators, youth unemployment, as well as on the evaluation of continuing education and training systems.

From 2023, Rebecca will be part of a multidisciplinary research environment project, funded by the Swedish Research Council, that will examine how educational transitions are shaped by boundaries and places for first-generation migrant children and youth.