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Exploring the experience of being first in family at university

As part of their successful NCSEHE 2014 research grant proposal, Dr Sharron King, (Chief Investigator) University of South Australia, Dr Ann Luzeckyj, Flinders University and Associate Professor Ben McCann, University of Adelaide, will be exploring the experience of being the first in a family (FiF) to attend university. This project, a collaboration between the three universities in South Australia, will document discussions with FiF students regarding the opportunities they feel they have attained from participating in higher education, and the bringing to life of their lived experiences.

Dr King said:

“As a team we have spent several years working collaboratively and constructively in the fields of widening participation, student equity, and the role of transition and retention services in student experience across the three universities in South Australia. We have been inspired through our own experiences of being and/or working with first in family students to explore the impact that university study has on this previously under recognised equity group. This project upscales an area of interest that we have been researching over a number of years, and whilst we have collected extensive quantitative data on this student cohort we find that we still do not know a great deal about first in family students’ day-to-day experience of attending university or 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. Furthermore, we do not know how university life impacts upon their self-identity or their extended relationships with family and friends.

We hope that by offering a narrative-based enquiry approach to this key student demographic, we can bring to life their lived experiences so that future first in family students can learn from this experience in order to successfully negotiate and manage university life and achieve a more effective balance between their study and external commitments and interests. Moreover, we hope to use the understandings developed through this study to inform institutional staff and policymakers on how their actions and practices are viewed through the students’ eyes and what they can do to better support this equity cohort.

The project will provide a far deeper understanding of the first in family student experience that is 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.”

Tangible outcomes from this project will include practical advice to FiF students on how to negotiate and manage university life and how to better balance university study alongside their other commitments and interests. The advice will also be formulated differently and extended to university staff and policymakers to enrich their understandings of the reality of FiF students’ experience.

The project will conclude in April 2015, after which time the full report will be made available here on the NCSEHE website.

Dr King is a senior lecturer in the School of Health Sciences at the University of South Australia. Sharron has a long term engagement with student equity through her roles as the Vice Chancellors Equity Representative on the university’s Research Degrees Committee and previous membership on the University Equity committee. She has been an Equity Contact at UniSA for the past 12 years and in these roles she has been able to raise awareness of equity issues as well as advocate for students facing educational disadvantage. Her interest in social justice has informed her research, which primarily focuses on student health and wellbeing.


Dr Luzeckyj is an early career researcher who achieved her Doctor of Education in 2011. Ann works in the Centre for University Teaching at Flinders University where her role focusses predominantly on supporting academic staff who teach first year students. She sees this role as an opportunity to develop and extend her commitment to supporting equitable access to higher education.

As Associate Dean for Student Experience University of Adelaide, Associate Professor McCann works extensively with academic and professional staff across the University of Adelaide to support student transition to university and develop curriculum design and pedagogies that enable closer alignments with the University’s key retention priorities.

Posted 8 April 2014 Posted in General