The Politics of Participation at University: Sub-Bachelor Learning

Year: 2017

Author: Reimer, Kristin, Fish, Tim, McLeod, Amber, Pardy, John

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Increasing participation in tertiary education has been a long-term policy goal in Australia. Sub-bachelor programmes such as Diplomas or Associate Degrees provide an institutional response aimed at increasing the participation of those who are historically under-represented. Proposed changes in the 2017 budget to remove limits on the number of funded places institutions can offer for diploma and other sub-bachelor programmes foreshadow an increase in this type of institutional response. Yet, it is in the student experiences of these sub-bachelor programmes, viewed as pathways into further degrees, where sustained participation in tertiary education is achieved. In recognition of this, the ways students connect with their peers and encounter the cultures of learning at university are often covered in large-scale studies focusing on access and equity in tertiary education in Australia (Gale & Parker, 2014; Rubin & Wright, 2015; Wilson, Murphy, Pearson, Wallace, Reher, & Buys, 2016). This project specifically sought to build insights into the everyday experiences of students entering the university through sub-bachelor courses. The significance of examining the experiences of these students is twofold: First, to understand the cultural crossings made by students coming to university, particularly those who are under-represented; Secondly, to understand which factors encourage success in such crossings and how and why such experiences impact these students.

The research presented in this conference paper sought to answer the following key question: What do students participating in sub-bachelor (Pathways) courses identify as central to their successful transition to tertiary study? Subsequent questions centred upon how supportive learning communities and relationships are formed. Specifically what elements of the university environment facilitated such relationships?

Students enrolled in a Pathways course at an Australian university participated in an online survey administered at the beginning of the course with a follow-up online survey completed at the end of the course. Focus groups were a further aspect in the data collection at the completion of the course. Students identify factors that challenge their transition and the ways they overcome hurdles to transition.

Preliminary findings suggest that personal, social and institutional factors all work to both facilitate and impede the crossings of under-represented students to university. Data collected in the coming months will flesh out these factors with narratives and depth. Given the potentially growing participation in sub-bachelor programmes, there is a need to understand with detail the lived experience of students within them, to ensure that participation is sustained and meaningful.