ERG SES E 14, Research in Higher Education
Widening overall access and increasing participation and completion of underrepresented groups in higher education is considered as crucial to create inclusive higher education systems and for enhancing the attractiveness and competitiveness of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) in general. Thus, it is also viewed as a precondition for societal progress, economic development and democratic stability within Europe (European Commission, 2011; The Bologna Process & European Higher Education Area, 2015). Within “The Europe 2020 strategy” the EU proposes that at least 40% of people aged 30–34 should have completed higher education (European Commission, 2010). However, access to and retention of university is still globally stratified according to socio-demographic and socio-economic characteristics (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2015; OECD, 2017).
Students whose parents did not attend higher education (i.e. first-in-family students), are less likely to participate in higher education and to obtain a university degree compared to students whose parents have attended university. First-in-family students are also at higher risk of dropping out than students whose parents have a university degree (O’Shea, 2016; OECD, 2014; Quinn, 2013; Zaussinger, Unger, Thaler, Diabiasi et al., 2016). Furthermore, those students are less likely to study subjects that are high in prestige and considerations on prestige do not essentially affect their study- or university-choice (Reay, David, & Ball, 2005; Spiegler & Bednarek, 2013). Due to their situational contexts where they often find themselves confronted with less favourable (economic) circumstances, they often have to take up regular, time-demanding employment during their studies (Horn & Carroll, 1996; Nairz-Wirth & Feldmann, 2015; Quinn, 2013). Employment has become more important for many students in recent years, for first-in-family students in particular. The reasons for being a working student are manifold and not always of financial nature. Companies nowadays expect graduates to have professional experience when applying for a job. Some students also see working as an appreciated alternation from their everyday-university-life (Moreau & Leathwood, 2006).
While previous research mainly focused on insufficient student resource endowments, there is still little understanding on how first-in-family students successfully overcome the transition into higher education and manage to arrange studying, work, family and other life-domains within their everyday lives (O’Shea, 2016). Also, little is known about which factors affect the study progress of working first-in-family students compared to working students whose parents did attend higher education. Thus, the outlined project aims to explore first-in-family experiences from an agent-centered perspective (qualitative approach) and to analyse their study progress also on an aggregate level (quantitative approach). To shed light on this heterogeneous group of first-in-family students, a mixed-methods-approach is used and theoretically drawing on the conduct of everyday life concept (Schraube & Højholt, 2016) and Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, capital and field (Bourdieu, 1983). With the concept of everyday life, study-work-balances of first-in-family students can be understood as several communicative processes, which are influenced by social structures on the one hand and by the individual’s choices on the other hand. Study-work-balances are therefore understood as ‘arrangements’, in which the different spheres (e.g. family, university, work, etc.) of an individual’s life all come together, connect with each other and have to be managed by the individual. In addition, according to Bourdieu’s concepts the questions of resources and restrictions can be analysed to understand how they shape the arrangements of first-in-family students.
To address the aims of this study a mixed-methods-design was chosen which has been established as third research paradigm besides one-sided qualitative or quantitative approaches (Johnson, Onwuegbuzie, & Turner, 2007). Empirical data consisting of qualitative data (i.e. interviews with students from three different fields of study) has been collected and a quantitative survey of over 20,000 students in Austria has been analysed. Austria has been chosen because of it’s high proportion of working students (52% work more than 6 hours per week and 54% of them are having problems in balancing study, employment and other life-domains) (Zaussinger, Unger, Thaler, Dibiasi et al., 2016). Additionally, it is not possible to study part-time at Austrian universities, which goes along with a lot of disadvantages for working students. To this point, 15 narrative interviews with first-in-family students have been conducted. The participants were chosen in regard of their study progress, regional background, university entrance qualification and the dimension and nature of their employment. The interviews ranged between 90 and 240 minutes in length and were transcribed in their full extend. The qualitative data are analysed by following a hermeneutical approach (fine and sequential analysis according to Lueger, 2010). Due to that analysis, the interconnections of the different spheres of the student’s lives – e.g. studying, work, family, friends, leisure and living situation – are explored. With reference to the quantitative data, a regression model is used to predict study progress (i.e. dependent variable). The correlation between the quantity of working hours and the amount of time spent on studying (both measured in hours/week) are used as proxy variables. Additionally, the following variables were integrated into the model: age, gender, educational background, field of study as well as income (e.g. financial support from parents and/or the state via scholarships, grants, etc.).
Due to the qualitative analysis, the hidden (i.e. latent) rules, according to which the arrangements of first-in-family students are structured, are going to be explored. The presentation therefore focusses on different (ideal) arrangements of first-in-family students. Up to this point, a harmonic arrangement, a diffuse arrangement and a hybrid arrangement have been reconstructed. Those arrangement types vary in terms of the student’s (cultural, social and economic) capital endowments as well as their sense of belonging at university. According to the quantitative analysis, overall, it is expected that employment has a negative impact on study progress. It is going to be tested whether this differs among fist-in-family students and students, whose parents have a university degree. Therefore hypotheses are formulated and tested. For example it is expected that: The lower the income of a student, the more he or she works term-time. Furthermore, it is expected that this highly affects first-in-family students, which has a negative impact on their study progress in return and disadvantages them compared to students, who are not the first in their family to attend university. Based on the qualitative and quantitative results, it will be discussed how first-in-family students can be supported and how educational inequality in higher education can be reduced within the Austrian and the European context. This presentation would be of particular interest to both scholars/ researchers and also, those who are involved in student support or equity initiatives.
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