The First Year Experience
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Lost in Transition: Facing the First Year in University Dr Jocey Quinn [email protected] PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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The First Year Experience in Continuing Education Conference Stirling University. Lost in Transition: Facing the First Year in University Dr Jocey Quinn [email protected] Outline of Presentation.

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Lost in Transition: Facing the First Year in University Dr Jocey Quinn [email protected]

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The First Year Experience

in Continuing Education


Stirling University

Lost in Transition:

Facing the First Year in University

Dr Jocey [email protected]

Outline of Presentation

  • Focuses on the notion of First Year as a problematic transition-analysing and critiquing this idea

  • Draws on 2 national and international research studies

  • Explores briefly how the first year is conceptualised internationally

  • Analyses its position in UK policy discourse

  • Uses data from Joseph Rowntree Foundation study to problematise assumptions about transition and first year and outline how non-traditional students can best be supported

  • Concludes by questioning the first year as a fixed moment of make or break- and proposes greater flexibility

Nationwide approach-not narrow institutional focus, emphasis on provinces not London

Participative qualitative approach

Involved wide range of stakeholders-seen as cultural/social issue

Linked drop out with what happened before eg in schools and FE and with what happened after eg in job market

Looked for international perspectives

4 post 1992 UK universities

4 Research Jury Days

International colloquium

Interviews Careers/Employment agencies

Admissions survey

Interviews with 67 first generation entrants whod withdrawn early

54 had left in First Year, half in first semester

From life crisis to lifelong learning; rethinking working class drop out from higher education Joseph Rowntree FoundationQuinn, Thomas, Slack, Casey, Thexton and Noble, 2005

International Insights into Widening ParticipationEsmee Fairburn Foundation/Sutton TrustThomas and Quinn, 2003

  • International retention network of 10 countries: Australia, Canada, Croatia, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, UK and US

  • Comparative overview of access and retention in tertiary education of the following target groups; students with low socio-economic status, first generation entrants, minorities and refugees, students with disabilities and mature students across the 10 countries

  • Process of mutual learning drawing on indigenous knowledge and multi-layered approach focusing on policy/institutional practice/student experience

Snapshot of First Year internationally: retention=first year

  • Moment of attrition-even in Sweden 30% withdraw in first year

  • Risky moment for which we must pave the way-summer schools for mature students in Ireland, specialist induction for ethnic minorities in Norway

  • Time of probation-in Norway over 25s admitted without qualifications on probation until passing first year exams

  • Time of integration-in Australia study skills/mentoring/tracking embedded in first year programmes-no validation without this

  • Time of stress- in Croatia psychological consultations for mature students

  • Late or interrupted transitions to First year eg not straight from school- seen as a problem in USA. Direct transition associated with persistence

Transition to First Year in the UK: the dominant policy discourse

  • Considered individually and socially desirable-50% target

  • Entering First Year represents complete change in status and culmination of aspirations

  • Moment when you become a better person with better opportunities and a better citizen

  • HE also brings social benefitsthere is strong evidence that graduates are more likely to be engaged citizens (DfES, 2003)

  • Emphasis in policy, practice, research on point of access to first year, not what happens after

  • Focus on youthful transitions-unproblematic and seamless path to successful life

  • Untidy transitions- mature, via FE etc- often ignored

  • Anything that threatens incorporation in first year, such as early withdrawal, is regulated and supressed

  • HEFCE tasked with bearing down on institutions that allow it

  • Positions the first year student as rational, autonomous and sorted

JRF Findings on Transitions to the First Year: Less and More dramatic


Continued old life

Carried on living at home

University replaces school/college

Same local pack of friends attended

Same part time jobs


Didnt enter on equal terms

Not familiar with university norms, values

Less possible guidance from parents

Less assurance to demand support and servicing

When I first spoke the university they told me the HND course was running, when I came to sign they announced that this course is no longer available. They then told me about this computer science courseI panicked everyone else was going. I knew it was an opportunity to get more education. Looking back at it now it definitely was too much. I should have looked for other options instead. I just panicked and did the degree

I didnt really know what I was going into because the prospectus didnt really give me that much of a clue. I knew it was a new course but I just feel that if they had told me what the exact things were then maybe I wouldnt have picked it

Challenging assumptions about the First Year: Assumption 1: the First Year student has carefully selected their course and has clear goals

Assumption2: The First Year Student is an independent, self-determining individual

  • I couldnt figure out whether it was me. Perhaps I couldnt handle the work or was it the fact that I got so bored that I didnt want to handle the work and I let it slip. I couldnt figure either of them out really

Assumption 3 : Transitions to the First Year are smooth, paving the way is easy

  • We werent prepared for the transition between school and university and I went to a thing called a summer school in there as well. We were in a group of about 16 people and I thought its all right it is just like school. That gives you a false impression, the fact that you were in a small class and you had a teacher and then when I went to university there were 300 of us sitting in a lecture hall.

Assumption 4: if support is available First Year Students will use it

We got the induction at university at the beginning and there was some talk about it, but we were never really told who to go to or where to go, never entirely sure just what I could do if I needed help

They can cover their backs by saying we have got a noticeboard that says theres a counsellor, but thats not the same as someone coming into class and saying we are here if you need to speak to us and you can come in confidence-its nothing to be ashamed of. You are just a number. I am a statistic of somebody that has dropped out.

Assumption 5 : Being a student is the First Years whole life

It was hard, especially when lecturers said I had to do things by the next day. Id have to do it after work but I didnt finish work until after 11 oclock three or four nights a week.

We can only support First Years if we unpick these assumptions of rationality, autonomy and being sorted

Encourage openness and help them explore possibilities

Music was my big thing. I was really into that in a big way, but I thought to myself music as far as going on to university it could be limited in the job field basically and I thought networking is quite practical so I gave that a try. In the 3rd year I decided that I was fed up and was going to leave. I found sometimes the way they were teaching it was difficult but when I look back it was just because I wasnt really interested in italso we were mixing in with students doing multi-media. I ended up seeing that side of the work and that is what Im doing now.

It has just made me wake up and think about what I want

Dont leave them feeling lost and alone

  • Someone to listen to is not a big thing to ask from a university

  • I just felt like I was out there and I was on my own and there were not a lot of people who could help me in any way

Develop responsive pedagogies

  • I think he understood that most people come from college and there were differences in the way people were taught. He advised us how to go about taking notes and then looking at his notes. I found that very helpful. Other lecturers didnt go about it that way

  • There was some work that I felt I was doing enough in but I wasnt really getting the marks for it. Most of the class agreed that they werent getting a clear indication as to what was required for it

Integrate support as everyday practice

  • We were told there was a study helper kind of person if we were ever having any trouble in classes we could go to them. I was never told who it was so if I ever needed I wouldnt know where to find them

Be responsive to change and encourage flexibility

  • It was a case of its your course, you picked it and you are in it!

    I went to see my course tutor. I had tears he just seemed to think it would be better for me to go

    Mom and Dad were all right but they did want me to stick the first year out

    The university has a preoccupation with full-time study and it would require a major change in direction to be regarded as a lifelong learning institution-its shape would have to change significantly and the structure of funding from central government would have to facilitate this change Admissions Officer

Rethink First Year transition: no more make or break

  • Dominant ideas about transition to first year are not helpful

  • Transition is seen as moving from one point of being to another because of an external event (eg entering university)

  • In fact we are all permanently engaged in change and transitions-we move forward and backward and dont coalesce-we are fluid beings

  • Stop trying to capture and hold on to them in First Year

  • Stop seeing it as make or break

  • Reposition first year as time of openness and experimentation and exploration

  • Allow students to move out/back/across/ go part time

  • Develop a flexible HE system that mirrors the flux of our being, rather than subjugating it with rigidity

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