Hope, J. (2014) CUTTING 'ROUGH DIAMONDS': FIRST GENERATION STUDENTS IN HIGHER EDUCATION. Doctoral theses, University of Chichester.

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Cutting rough diamonds provides an insight into higher education (HE) participation, which has become an
important focus for policy debate and research. This is the result of ongoing attempts to expand the HE system
in line with wider policies promoting a 'knowledge economy' and resulting from policy concerns with equity
and inclusion. Previous research focuses largely on demographics, academic performance, and persistence rates
of first generation students. Studies in the field of student experience, learning approaches and transitions have
examined the relation between learning and contextual factors. The focus of this inquiry is significant as it
focuses on first generation students' experience and the ways they cope with change (transition to HE) at a
personal and academic level. The term 'rough diamond' is the title for this thesis, as it is redolent with
metaphor that encapsulates many of the discourses that position the students within the inquiry.
To develop a clear and holistic picture of the participants' experiences of higher education, fifty semi-structured
interviews were undertaken. Grounded theory techniques were the initial method of data gathering and analysis.
Phenomenographic techniques were later employed for a deeper exploration of variation in the group and to
generate new knowledge in an under-researched area. The use of grounded theory and phenomenographic
approaches highlighted the complexities in the experiences of these first generation students. They showed the
individual nature of those experiences, set as they were in a highly politicised and dynamic field. The inquiry
traced how these students moved into and took up their place at a single case study university site, 'The Centre'
and how they engaged in their first semester of study of an undergraduate degree. The participants discussed
their experiences transitioning to university and the issues and challenges associated with their new
In the light of the evidence gathered and a review of existing scholarship, a detailed exploration and theorisation
is offered which draws on the theoretical concepts of Archer (2000, 2003, 2007), Bourdieu (1980, 1984, 1986)
and Weick (2001, 1993, 1995, 2009). These have been combined to provide a conceptual theoretical
framework that helps to illuminate the complexity of the transition process undertaken by these students. The
research findings demonstrate that the point of registration at higher education institutions does not in itself
constitute a successful student transition to university. The findings suggest that underpinning the students'
experiences of transition is a complex interplay between becoming, being and achieving as a higher education
student and their own cultural and social identity. The interplay between university life and personal
circumstance is not easily or simply reconciled or identified.
A psychosocial approach examined the premise that the interaction and transaction between individuals and
structures is essential to develop a holistic understanding of what shapes first generation students' experiences
and choices. Insights for policy makers, policy researchers, higher education managers and lecturers are offered
with regard to provision, transition and subsequent enactment of agency of the first generation students. This
led to a model of the 'process of transition' to illustrate how these students navigate crossing the cultures of
home and university. The model could help retention of first generation students in a competitive market place
for post 1992 universities who rely on these students for their intake.
The thesis offers insights that could inform universities of strategies and practices that may aid widening
participation students to successfully make the transition to university life, and ultimately to graduation. The
inquiry invites further investigation of current higher education policy priorities for first generation students.

Publication Type: Theses (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Higher Education, Students, Social Policy
Subjects: L Education > L Education (General)
Divisions: Academic Areas > Institute of Education, Social and Life Sciences > Childhood
Student Research > Doctoral
Depositing User: Steve Bowman
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2015 09:49
Last Modified: 19 Nov 2015 09:49

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