I just kind of felt like a nobody': Alternative pathways, student identity and institutional resistance

Year: 2012

Author: Charman, Karen, Charlton, Emma, Rowlands, Julie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed



The Associate Degree of Arts, Business and Sciences is an established and successful university preparatory program offered at Deakin University (Warrnambool and Geelong Waurn Ponds campuses) in partnership with five TAFEs across Victoria. Associate Degree lectures are undertaken via a videoconference and tutorial support is provided by site-specific tutors. Alternative pathways such as these provide an important means of achieving the Bradley Report's recommendation that 40% of Australian 25-30 years olds attain a bachelor level qualification or above by 2020.

However, such programs can be met with resistance in universities at both an institutional and individual level. Despite this, while much scholarly writing and research has been concerned with the academic readiness of pathway students transitioning to higher education, little attention has been paid to the institutional readiness of higher education providers.

Part of the challenge for the Associate Degree is to create a sense of university-student identity, particularly for those regional students undertaking university study at a TAFE campus.

This presentation juxtaposes these two tensions.


The presentation draws on interview data, collected between 2010 and 2011, from staff and students involved in the Associate Degree. It also includes a narrative analysis of institutional barriers experienced during the establishment of this program, and the willingness of faculty staff to accept it as a legitimate pathway to bachelor level degree programs. In particular, this analysis is framed using Bernstein's notions of classification and framing to highlight significant differences between the Associate Degree and its articulation pathways, which may help to explain ongoing tacit and overt resistance. Further, Bernstein's analysis of elaborated and restricted codes will contribute to an understanding of institutional and student anxiety about the expression of knowledge.


While universities may feel compelled to broaden their student populations in response to government-led participation and equity targets and as a further means of increasing student load, this research suggests that articulation programs such as that offered at Deakin University will continue to experience significant institutional resistance long after their initial establishment. There is a need to build a sense of place for students in preparatory programs so that they might lay claim to a student identity, and yet at an institutional level there is need to problematize the ways students in alternative pathway programs are perceived.  Bernstein's theories have much to offer in assisting us to understand and respond to these complex demands.