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The Experience of Being First in Family at University

Book cover: The Experience of Being First in Family at University

The Experience of Being First in Family at University explores the experiences of successful first in family students across a range of disciplines and institutions.

Written by Head of UniSA College Associate Professor Sharron King in collaboration with higher education colleagues Dr Ann Luzeckyj (Flinders University) and Associate Professor Ben McCann (The University of Adelaide), the book offers new data and recommendations for the widening participation of an increasingly diverse student cohort.

Drawing on research that investigated the expectations and experiences of first year students across the three major universities in South Australia, the book examines the factors that influence first in family students’ decisions to enrol and succeed at university, and how their hopes, dreams and ambitions for the future affect their university experience.

This book provides a timely response to current debates about the purposes of higher education in the 21st century and demonstrates the value of providing opportunities where none had previously existed, allowing cohorts who are often labelled as ‘disadvantaged’ to excel and flourish. The authors build upon and extend the notion that many first in family students are “higher education pioneers” within their families and wider communities and through their engagement with university they transform not only themselves but also provide a pathway for others to follow. 

Using a narrative approach, the book explores the experiences of successful first in family students as they navigate their way through their university degree, and how these experiences come to shape their sense of identity and future possibilities. From these students’ experiences we can see that a university education has a far more wide-ranging impact than just developing knowledge, skills and capabilities. Reflected in these stories are multiple changes taking place: shifts in personal values and beliefs, the development of multifaceted identities and the transformation of aspirations and goals not only for the students themselves but also for their siblings, children and colleagues. Through their experiences of university study these first in family students become powerful role models for future cohorts.

“In recognising and exploring the specific challenges that first in family students are required to overcome in addition to the normal adjustments associated with transitioning into university, we hope that this book will provide further support to the ongoing discussions around a need for robust advocacy for establishing strategies to support and cultivate this cohort,” Assoc Prof King says.  

As universities face intense competition for students and growing economic constraints, the book comes at a critical time offering valuable insights into the first in family student experience and recommendations for future practice for both institutions and educators alike.

The book is published by Springer and is available online.

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