Recommendations arising from the Review of Australian Higher Education (Bradley, Noonan, Nugent & Scales, 2008) see universities aiming to increase enrolments of school leavers generally and those from low socioeconomic status backgrounds particularly. Similar trends have already been seen in other countries such as the United Kingdom, with mixed success. Enrolments of students from less advantaged groups have remained largely static in recent decades, both in Australia and elsewhere. Research suggests that students attracted to university study due to these 'widening participation' initiatives are more likely to attend some institutions than others, based on location and admission requirements. Likewise, they are more likely to enrol in some courses than others; for example teaching and nursing rather than law and medicine. Students from less advantaged groups experience higher education differently from their more advantaged peers, and face additional challenges.
Using Bourdieu's theoretical concepts of habitus, field and capital, this study will examine the experiences of non-traditional students enrolled in a teacher education program. Whilst some initial quantitative data will be collected (mainly for identification of suitable participants for the subsequent detailed data collection), the study will be predominantly qualitative. With a two pronged longitudinal design, the student experience over the full course of the university program and initial years of the teaching career will be studied. First year and final year students will be selected for participation. Initial surveys will provide quantitative data regarding demographic information, and motivations, and will allow for selection of participants for the longitudinal research. Narrative interviews will then be conducted annually to provide rich data over time. Academic perspectives regarding non-traditional students will also be investigated through a survey.
In summary, this study will seek to determine relationships between background, practices and success (both at university and in the workplace) for non-traditional students. By doing so, it is hoped to contribute to an understanding of the factors contributing to and impeding the success of non-traditional students in teacher education specifically and university generally. This paper presents an overview of the study, and discusses data from initial interviews with first year teacher education students.