All Ireland Society for Higher Education (AISHE), AISHE-C 2008: Encouraging Student Engagement

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Exploring similarities and differences in the reported academic experiences of 'former access' and 'traditional-entry' university students: a constructivist grounded theory approach
Elaine B Keane

Last modified: 2008-05-16


Similar to the international context, Irish higher education institutions are increasingly focusing on the recruitment of students from under-represented groups (McGuire, Collins & Garavan, 2003), inter alia, students from lower socio-economic groups (OECD, 2004; Schuetze & Slowey, 2002; Clancy, 2001). Whilst much attention and research has focused on the recruitment and access of such students to higher education, relatively little research has been conducted on their subsequent academic experiences, the latter which thus constitutes the focus of this research. A qualitative approach was employed in this ongoing PhD study. Methodologically, a constructivist form of grounded theory is being used (Charmaz, 2006), in which the key role of the researcher as part of the research process is recognised. As one part of the research, 46 in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with undergraduate students; with 23 former school-leaver access (SLA)* and 23 'matched' (e.g. re. discipline) 'traditional-entry' (TE)** students in one Irish university. Following an initial analysis of these data, the following preliminary categories emerged:

o 'Deciding' to go to university (Always wanting to go vs. being the 'done' thing)
o Initial feelings: Feeling worried, excited, grateful, prepared or unprepared
o Learning at university (nature, expectations, preferences, approach)
o Seeing vs. not seeing 'a class thing' (students being/staying 'in their groups', social vs. functional role of university, 'disclosing' access)

Theoretical sampling was then employed to 'fill' any apparent conceptual 'gaps' in emerging categories. Following an overview of the context, previous research and the methodology, this paper explores a number of the findings of the continuing analysis, particularly in the context of the post-theoretical sampling stage.

* SLA: school-leaver age, from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, have inadequate academic qualifications to progress to university through the 'traditional' route, and completed a pre-entry 'preparatory' programme.

** TE: school-leaver age, typically from non-socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, have progressed to university through the 'traditional' route following post-primary education.


Widening Participation, the Student Experience