22 SES 12 E, Inclusion and Accessability of Higher Education
First-in-family (FIF) undergraduates face many challenges both in their transition to university and in their experience with university. It has been argued they are not only expected to be less primed to take advantage of university resources but also to participate less in university life. Arguably, this lack of participation limits their acquisition of social and cultural capital which has implications for lifelong consequences regarding family formation, job acquisition, and network development (Gore et al 2015). Research has there are a variety of factors which can influence first-in-family students which have been documented to have stronger financial motivations, indicating their aspirations are primarily for occupational futures that provide financial security.
In terms of inclusion and exclusion, first-in-family males remain severely underrepresented in Australian higher education (Lamb et al. 2015). The central question of this project is “How do first-in-family males transition to and experience Australian university study in different locales and institutions?” The main aim of the project isto understand the role that gender – interacting with low SES status and ethnicity – plays in FIF males becoming socially mobile. Investigating how boys become socially mobile and pursue higher education to expand their opportunities requires an intersectional analytical framework for in-depth analysis of their acclimatization to new learning environments.
The project has three sub-aims to probe the nature of FIF male student experience:
- Aim 1: How do experiences at high school, the use of formal and informal support, and geographical locations contribute to FIF males’ transition to university?
- Aim 2: In relation to gender, how does low socio-economic status (SES) – shaped through access and operationalisation of different forms of capital (economic, social and cultural) – influence the experiences of FIF young men at university?
- Aim 3: How do cultural beliefs regarding gender influence the transition of FIF males to university and their experiences during the first year at university?
In this research, low SES is defined in terms of people’s access to material and social resources as well as their ability to participate in society (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011). Two low SES regions have been selected for study – the northern suburbs of Adelaide and the western suburbs of Sydney – enabling the research to account for the different demographic, cultural, curricular and educational histories. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ SEIFA rankings, Elizabeth is considered the most disadvantaged suburb of Adelaide (prior to the closure of Holden), followed by Smithfield-Elizabeth North. These areas are located within 10 km of the University of South Australia’s Mawson Lakes Campus. Sydney’s most disadvantaged areas, Ashcroft-Busby-Miller and Bidwill-Hebersham-Emerton, are located within 10 km the University of Western Sydney Penrith Campus. Furthermore, both cohorts also have access to ‘Group of Eight’ institutions (University of Adelaide and University of Sydney) via a one hour commute on public transport. Both areas are very different in terms of cultural diversity, population density, economic opportunities but they share similarities in poverty indexes and proximity to university campuses. Additionally, both areas have significant percentages of new immigrants (Chinese, Pasifika) and those from refugee backgrounds (Sudanese, Somali, Afghani). The research draws on semi-structured interviews with a dozen school leaders, 42 first-in-family males finishing Year 12 and a handful of their parents across six different school sites. Additionally, visual methodology has been used with the young men. Visual methodology is productive in researching the aspirations and experiences of low-SES males as it facilitates relationship building as well as intersectional analysis. A visual methodology contributes to the co-construction of knowledge, builds on the participants’ strengths and is sensitive to those who are ‘not verbally adept, perhaps unused to exploring their views and feelings with a stranger’ or where English may not be their first language.
This presentation focuses on understanding how experiences at high school, the use of formal and informal support, and geographical locations contribute to FIF males’ transition to university. The focus is in how the boys are constituted in their institutions and how this constitution influences their aspirations. Research on social mobility has documented that ‘school effects’ (Donnolly 2015) play a significant role in the transition to the first year of university (Gofen 2009) where such experiences either positively or negatively influence FIF students’ success at university. According to Donnolly (2015) the concept of ‘school effects’ draws on multiple theoretical frameworks to interrogate how school cultures (intakes, organisational practices and processes) influence how students transition into university. The research focuses on institutional factors influencing first-in-family males to pursue university in Australia and the significance of these factors for international research on widening participation. Specific attention is given to career guidance counseling, timetabling, mentorship, teacher-student relationships, curriculum in relation to exam scores. It is argued that these institutional factors contribute to how students are portrayed and how they may strategically play the game.
Donnelly, M (2015) A new approach to researching school effects on higher education participation British Journal of Sociology of Education 36(7), 1073-1090. Gofen, A (2009) Family capital: How first-generation higher education students break the intergenerational cycle. Family Relations, 58(1): 104-120. Gore, J., K. Holmes, M. Smith, E. Southgate and J. Albright, 2015. Socioeconomic status and the career aspirations of Australian school students: Testing enduring assumptions. Australian Educational Researcher 42(2): 155–177. Lamb, S, Jackson, J, Walstab, A, & Huo, S (2015) Educational opportunity in Australia 2015, who succeeds and who misses out. Report from the Mitchell Foundation.
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