About

First-in-family students make up a significant proportion of the university population within Australia. The most recent statistics indicate that over 50% of Australian HE students are the first in their families to attend university (Spiegler & Bednarek, 2013). However, international research on this group indicates that this student cohort collectively do not perform to the same level academically as their second or third generation peers (HEFCE, 2010; NCES, 2012). Within Australia, higher rates of attrition have been recorded for students whose parents have not completed high school (19%) compared to those who had a parent with a diploma qualification or higher (12%) (McMillan, 2005). Arguably this risk is further increased as first-in-family status is not currently recognised as an equity categorisation yet these students frequently fall into multiple equity groupings (O’Shea, 2015).

This new STARS Special Interest Group (SIG) in 2016 seeks to develop a community of practise for those who are interested in both supporting and engaging first-in-family students. The SIG would be of interest to researchers, teaching staff, outreach and equity practitioners as well as those working in broader university student support services. The focus is both to explore what is currently happening for this significant student cohort but also, importantly, to consider how we can better retain and support this cohort moving forward.

 

Session Structure

This inaugural meeting will firstly provide a forum to explore how various institutions are currently engaging with this student cohort. Participants will be encouraged to share existing strategies targeted at first-in-family learners as well as their own ideas, concerns and imaginings related to this group.

There will be opportunity for discussion and reflection particularly as this relates to how institutions can: a) implement targeted support strategies that account for the learning contexts of these students; b) explore strategies for connecting with families and community of first-in-family students and c) share plans or future initiatives in this field. SIG attendees are encouraged to come prepared to reflect upon their personal interest in (or passion for) this student group and also to share current practices or initiatives designed to support and engage these learners.

 

Convenorsarah_oshea

A/Prof Sarah O’Shea:
Australian National Learning and Teaching Fellow (OLT);
Program Coordinator: Adult, Vocational and Higher Education, University of Wollongong

 Sarah has worked in the higher education sector for nearly twenty years; currently she is a teaching/research academic at University of Wollongong. In 2015, Sarah was awarded an Australian Government (OLT) National Teaching Fellowship, to support her work with students who are first in their families to come to university.

Sarah’s drive to impact on student engagement is underpinned by a teaching philosophy that recognises how access to education can have transformative repercussions both individually and within the wider social stratum. This work is also intrinsically informed by her own journey, which includes teaching across a variety of adult education contexts, providing academic skills support to diverse student populations before moving into an academic role to further research output. This diverse background has provided Sarah with a unique insight into the nature of the university student experience and prompted her PhD (2009), which qualitatively explored how female learners, all of whom were first in their family to attend university, managed their transition into this environment, amongst many competing demands.

Broadly, Sarah’s research focuses on student access, engagement and participation within the university sector. Her work has been published nationally and internationally, in the last five years this has included three books (two currently in-press[1]), four book chapters and nineteen peer-reviewed articles. Her research advances understanding of how under-represented student cohorts navigate transition into the university environment, manage competing identities and negotiate aspirations for self and others. Sarah has led research in the field including a multi-institutional OLT grant (with OUA & UON) investigating approaches to engaging and retaining first-in-family learners (www.firstinfamily.com.au) She is also currently concluding an ARC Discovery Project (with Profs Harwood (Lead CI) & Chandler) exploring the various impacts of a national university mentoring program (AIME) upon the educational futures of young Indigenous learners and the knowledge sets of student mentors (O’Shea et al, 2015)

 

References

HEFCE. (2010). Trends in young participation in higher education: core results for England. Issues Paper, 10th  March 2010, at http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/hefce/2010/10_03/ (Retrieved 12 March 2013).

McMillan, J. (2005). Course change and attrition from higher education. LSAY Research Report No.39. Melbourne: ACER.

National Center for Education Statistics [NCES]. (2012). Digest of Education Statistics, 2011 (NCES 2012-001). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office

O’Shea, S., (2015). Avoiding the manufacture of “sameness”: First-in-family students, cultural capital and the higher education environment. Higher Education (First Online).

O’Shea, S., McMahon, S. Bodkin-Andrews, A. Priestly, A & Harwood, V. (2015). ‘We are history in the making and we are walking together to change things for the better….’ Exploring the flows and ripples of learning in a mentoring program for Indigenous young people. Education as Change (First Online).

Spiegler, T., & Bednarek, A. (2013). First-generation students: what we ask, what we know and what it means: an international review of the state of research. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 23(4), 318-337.

[1] Harwood, V., Hickey Moody, A., McMahon, S., & O’Shea, S., (in-press, 2016). The Politics of Widening Participation: Making Educational Futures. Oxford: Routledge.

O’Shea, S., May, J., Stone, C., & Delahunty, J. (in-press, 2017).  First-in-Family Students, University Experience and Family Life: Motivations, Transitions and Participation. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

 

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[1] Harwood, V., Hickey Moody, A., McMahon, S., & O’Shea, S., (in-press, 2016). The Politics of Widening Participation: Making Educational Futures. Oxford: Routledge.

O’Shea, S., May, J., Stone, C., & Delahunty, J. (in-press, 2017).  First-in-Family Students, University Experience and Family Life: Motivations, Transitions and Participation. London: Palgrave Macmillan.