How well do we do for our First in Family (FiF) students?

Opinion: Dr. Ann Luzeckyj
How well do we do for our First in Family (FiF) students?

Students who are the first members of their family (FiF) to attend university experience transitioning into, and across, universities differently from those students who have older siblings or care-givers who have attended university before them. Research on this cohort has gained traction in recent years as although their status as FiF students includes its own challenges, many also fit into other equity groupings (low-SES, mature-aged, regional and remote, and Indigenous students).

“Being First in Family: motivations and metaphors” explores the metaphors used by FiF students when discussing their lived experiences of participation. The paper draws on research conducted as part of a project funded through the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) where 18 FiF students across three South Australian universities were interviewed. The FiF context and the approach to, and analysis of, the interviews are provided before the detailed discussion of the many evocative analogies and metaphors used by the students are presented. The approach helps illustrate how the students experience the strange and unknown aspects of higher education; deal with feelings of not belonging and reflect on how they overcame difficulties.

The paper demonstrates the many ways the students discussed their resilience and determination to succeed at their studies. It concludes by considering how the metaphors used by students provide insight into their lives and could be taken on board by university staff when considering how best to provide support to FiF students, who are often paving the way for their own children or younger siblings.

At Flinders, although statistics on whether a student fits the FiF category are not ‘officially’ collected, identifying and supporting FiF students occurs well in many areas of the institution. Many staff deliberately cater to these students by making them welcome and providing specific contextualised support. Resources are also provided to staff for use during orientation. Discussions about considering their needs are included in many of the workshops run through CILT. Resources and ideas on how to support them are also included in the First Year Support Strategies (FYSS) portal (which will soon be available through the e-Learning Gateway). There is, however, no specific or centralised support available to these students who, as indicated in the paper discussed above, feel like “fish out of water”; “a lone wolf” or as if they are on “a really high diving board and needing a good shove to take that first dive in”.

The report the research was based on can be found here and other research on FiF students is also available at the First in Family website  and Exploring the Experience of being First in Family at University.

Full article can be found:

Being First in Family: motivations and metaphors  │  Higher Education Research & Development(2017)
By Luzeckyj et al.

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