The First Year Experience in Australian Universities: Findings from two decades, 1994 – 2014
Written by Dr Chi Baik, Dr Ryan Naylor and Associate Professor Sophie Arkoudis, Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education
This report provides an analysis of trends over a twenty year period in the attitudes and experiences of first year students in Australian universities. It is based on the national survey of first year students undertaken by the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education at five-yearly intervals since 1994.
Dramatic changes have taken place in the Australian higher education sector since the last First Year Experience Study in 2009. The student body has continued to diversify with the introduction of the demand driven funding system and the provision of government funding to increase the inclusion and support of students from under-represented groups. Advances in technology, among other trends, have continued to alter the modes of student participation, the structures of course delivery, and relationships between students and teachers.
The 2014 First Year Experience survey is the first study of the ‘post Bradley review’ cohort and as such, provides insight into some of the possible effects of the demand driven system on the experience of first year students. The data offer important reference points for monitoring the expectations and experiences of a larger and more diverse group of students, and the effectiveness of university efforts to cater for them.
The first year students in 2014 were generally very positive in outlook, significantly more positive than first year students surveyed in the past two decades. Most students were clear about their reasons for going to university, had a strong sense of purpose and identity, were excited to be at university, and were very satisfied with their course experience.
Students in 2014 were also better prepared for the transition to university than students in previous studies. Concerted efforts to improve the links between school and university have had positive effect, as school leavers in 2014 report feeling better prepared to choose a course, and believe the final year of school prepared them well for university. The gap between school and university identified in earlier surveys has been narrowed considerably.
However, while students in 2014 had a stronger sense of purpose and a smoother transition to university life than students surveyed in the past, they were less socially engaged in the university community, spent less time on campus, and more students tended to keep to themselves. For a significant proportion of students (approximately 30%), getting motivated and coping with university study remains challenging.
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