Showcase Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

“One ambition I’ve always had is for when I have a family not to have to be ‘stretched’ like my mum was” Being First in Family: Motivations and Metaphors (#73)

Ben McCann 1 , Ann Luzeckyj 2 , Sharron King 3 , Charmaine Graham 3
  1. University of Adelaide, Adelaide
  2. Flinders University, Adelaide
  3. University of South Australia, Adelaide

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

First in Family (FiF) is an under-recognised equity grouping which may encompass low-SES, mature-aged, regional and remote, and Indigenous students.  FiF tertiary students are more likely to be in a position of educational disadvantage over students who have other family members available to share the experience of university life and discuss aspirations (Karimshah & Wyder et al, 2013; King & Garrett et al 2013; James, Krause & Jennings, 2010; Lohfink & Paulsen, 2005; Luzeckyj & King et al, 2011; Simmons, 2001; Thomas, 2002).

Too often the burden of navigating the uncertainty and complexity of university is placed on the student to adjust rather than the institution to provide more effective teaching and support strategies that better accommodate non-traditional students’ needs (Bamber & Tett 2001). Research indicates that these cohorts are highly capable when given opportunities to participate and support to succeed (Devlin, Kift et al 2012).  However, our previous research shows that FiF students experience educational disadvantage because their cultural and social capital does not readily align with that of the university (Luzeckyj, King et al 2011).

Building on this previous research we have deployed a narrative inquiry approach.  which involves the study of lived experience through listening to stories about individuals’ lives (Clandinin, 2006).  We have interviewed eighteen FiF university students to create a compelling collection of stories which reflect the cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional nature of the FiF student experience.  Because these narrative inquiries have the potential to be an empowering approach to research as stories are co-constructed between the researcher and the participant (Connelly & Clandinin, 1990), our case-studies will enable university staff and policymakers to see how their practices may be viewed through the students’ eyes and provide practical advice for future FiF students on ways to succeed and become responsive and adaptable professionals.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

As our own and other previous research has shown, FiF students have to navigate many uncertainties and complexities: whether from low-SES areas, rural or remote locations, school leavers or mature-aged students, these students are more likely to be in a position of educational disadvantage over students who have other family members available to share the experience of university life and discuss aspirations.  We do not know what constraints FiF students face.  We do not know what shapes their aspirations to attend university, what factors impact on them most significantly whilst at university, and what hopes and aspirations they have post-graduation. We do not know how university life impacts upon FiF students’ self-identity or their relationships with family and friends.

Our paper will be part of a wider project that will provide a deeper understanding of the FiF student experience, informed by the students’ reality rather than governmental or institutional discourse and practices so that all parties may benefit from an insight into the lived experiences, potential new frames of reference, and insights into how known issues can be (re)considered through the lens of this equity cohort.