“For those of us who work in the support roles or are involved in teaching students, there is a responsibility to not only acknowledge [students’] strengths but also foreground them in how we define and also, assist student cohorts. This then is the challenge as student populations increase in number and diversity, working within a strengths perspective enables us all to not only recognise but also value the cultural worth of first-in-family students.”
The participants at our University of Sydney workshop were very aware of the ‘barriers’ first-in-family learners may encounter when even considering attendance at this institution. Enrolling students into university is one thing but encouraging them to even consider an institution like University of Sydney can involve a great degree of work and ongoing support. These barriers do not only include economic or geographic issues but more fundamental perceptions related to learner confidence, sense of belonging and also, importantly, encouragement from others.
This workshop included a range of very engaged participants that spanned the outreach areas, faculty representation along with teaching and learning support staff. The discussion was greatly aided by snacks and beverages but most importantly, a genuine desire to consider ways this student cohort can be both attracted and supported in their higher education journey.
The key points that emerged in our discussions and which will further inform the Draft Principles, include:
- the need to recognise the great diversity of learners that identify as first-in-the family and the need to target support / assistance at specific demographic groupings:
- of particular interest was the question relating to family support and when does ‘family support’ become ‘parental intrusion’ for those younger school leavers?
- approaches to demystifying the university landscape with suggestions related to the unpacking of terminology and also, roles within the institution:
- the idea of including short student video blogs (vlogs) as a means to engage with various cohorts provided much ‘food for thought’
Thanks to all for this participation, which was enhanced by the excellent coffee and food – not to mention Dr Amani Bell’s also excellent organisation.