University trailblazers need extra support for post-graduation success
Major Fellowship research has shown sustained engagement beyond graduation would boost employment and study outcomes for students who are the first in their families to attend university.
The research by NCSEHE 2019 Research Fellow Professor Sarah O’Shea from the University of Wollongong explored the post-graduation experiences and outcomes of First-in-Family students. The project was conducted in collaboration with the Centre for Higher Education Equity and Diversity Research (CHEEDR) at La Trobe University.
“While statistics do tell a story, I was particularly interested in how students themselves navigated the transition into employment at an individual or felt level,” Professor O’Shea said.
“To that end, 375 students, graduates and other stakeholders from Australia and the United Kingdom were interviewed and surveyed to support data analysis and a literature review.”
The report recommended students be well prepared for a competitive labour market, with an emphasis on the value of internships and work-related activities. Financial subsidies and alternative delivery methods—including virtual reality experiences—could improve access for all students.
Graduates also expressed the need for ongoing university support as they moved into the workforce.
“University equity and outreach providers should ensure that the ‘transition out’ phase of the student life cycle is as supported and scaffolded as the ‘transition in’,” Professor O’Shea said.
“This support could be provided across diverse mediums, including social media, and timed to critical stages in the post-graduation journey.”
First-in-Family graduates reported greater difficulty finding employment than their second- and third-generation peers. They were also more likely to be “underemployed”, working fewer hours than desired, or not securing professional roles in their areas of study.
“Many of the alumni and recent graduates experienced limited employment prospects which they often attributed to differences in social and academic identity or a perceived inability to ‘fit in’ with organisational cultures,” Professor O’Shea said.
“More work could be done at university to ensure that students have realistic post-graduation expectations while peak bodies could present cost-benefit analyses so individuals can make informed decisions about different study and career pathways.”
The research found a more in-depth understanding of graduate trajectories and labour market conditions could be achieved through refinement of the Australian Graduate Outcomes Survey (GOS) and collaboration within the Australian Government to link relevant statistics.
NCSEHE Director Professor Sue Trinidad commended Professor O’Shea’s strengths-based approach to the project.
“While it may be more challenging for First-in-Family students to transition successfully into post-graduation employment and further study, they bring unique qualities including resilience and determination,” Professor Trinidad said.
“The higher education sector has a responsibility to ensure optimal support for students to translate their skills, attributes and qualifications into fulfilling careers.”