First in Family university students and the impact of critical life events

Year: 2021

Author: Macqueen, Suzanne

Type of paper: Individual Paper

Students who are First in Family (FiF) to attend university often contend with additional stressors compared to their colleagues from continuing generations. It can be more difficult for them to understand the culture of university, including academic requirements, and they can struggle financially. While any student can be affected by critical life events such as illness (of themselves or family members), bereavement, or extreme weather events such as floods or bushfires, the effects of such events may be more severe for FiF students as they may have fewer resources to draw on in such times. This pilot study surveyed students at a regional university, seeking to determine the types, frequency and impact of critical life events. Survey data were obtained from 136 students in total, and further detail was sought through interviews with six FiF students who had experienced critical life events during their university studies. Survey data showed that while FiF status did not affect the occurrence of critical life events, greater impact of such events was reported by FiF students. Factors including age, pathway to study, year of enrolment, and living arrangements correlated with differences in frequency and/or impact of life events. FiF students were less likely to receive support from some university services, but more support from others. By coincidence the survey was conducted during the 2020 period of COVID-19, and the impacts of the pandemic are included in the study. Interviews provide rich data to illuminate the survey results. The study has implications for the types of support that could be provided by universities to benefit specific groups of students.