© 2017

First-in-Family Students, University Experience and Family Life

Motivations, Transitions and Participation


Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xxi
  2. Surveying the First-in-Family Student Terrain

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 1-1
    2. Sarah O’Shea, Josephine May, Cathy Stone, Janine Delahunty
      Pages 3-31
    3. Sarah O’Shea, Josephine May, Cathy Stone, Janine Delahunty
      Pages 33-53
    4. Sarah O’Shea, Josephine May, Cathy Stone, Janine Delahunty
      Pages 55-71
    5. Sarah O’Shea, Josephine May, Cathy Stone, Janine Delahunty
      Pages 73-93
  3. Narrating the First-in-Family Student Experience

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 95-95
    2. Sarah O’Shea, Josephine May, Cathy Stone, Janine Delahunty
      Pages 97-117
    3. Sarah O’Shea, Josephine May, Cathy Stone, Janine Delahunty
      Pages 119-135
    4. Sarah O’Shea, Josephine May, Cathy Stone, Janine Delahunty
      Pages 137-154
    5. Sarah O’Shea, Josephine May, Cathy Stone, Janine Delahunty
      Pages 155-176
    6. Sarah O’Shea, Josephine May, Cathy Stone, Janine Delahunty
      Pages 177-201
    7. Sarah O’Shea, Josephine May, Cathy Stone, Janine Delahunty
      Pages 203-215
  4. Back Matter
    Pages 217-223

About this book


This book examines the university experiences of first-in-family university students, and how these students’ decisions to return to education impact upon their family members and significant others. While it is well known that parental educational background has a substantial impact on the educational levels of family and dependents, it is unclear how attending university as a first-in-family student translates into the family and community of the learner. With the continuing requirements for higher education institutions to increase the participation of students from a range of diverse backgrounds and educational biographies, this is a major gap in understanding that needs to be addressed.

Exploring how this university participation is understood at an individual, familial and community level, this book provides valuable insights into how best to support different student requirements. This book will be of great interest to students and researchers in the fields of education and sociology, as well as policy-makers in education and diversity initiatives.


families higher education adolescence universities transition students

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.University of WollongongWollongong, NSWAustralia
  2. 2.University of NewcastleCallaghan, NSWAustralia
  3. 3.University of NewcastleCallaghan, NSWAustralia
  4. 4.University of WollongongWollongong, NSWAustralia

About the authors

Sarah O’Shea is Associate Professor at University of Wollongong, Australia, and an Australian Teaching and Learning Fellow who is currently researching the experiences of first-in-family learners in higher education. Her research focuses on student access and participation within the university sector, with particular reference to students from identified equity groups.
Josephine May is Conjoint Associate Professor at the University of Newcastle, Australia.  She has a special interest in educational experiences, history, representations and gender.
Cathy Stone is Conjoint Senior Lecturer with the University of Newcastle, Australia, and a Visiting Research Fellow with the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education at Curtin University, Australia. She has had many years’ experience in developing strategies to improve student success and retention in higher education; her research and publications focus particularly on improving outcomes for mature-age and online students.
Janine Delahunty works in academic professional development and various research projects at the University of Wollongong. Her core interest is how the learning-teaching experience can be enhanced in HE, particularly for students from diverse backgrounds. Her other research interests include the experiences of first-in-family students, online learners and Indigenous students.

Bibliographic information


“The authors O’Shea, Stone, May and Delahunty, all experienced researchers and practitioners, provide an important overview of current research undertaken of the first-in-family (FiF) cohort who are a growing percentage of students who now are completing a university degree and are the first in their family to do so.  As these students have no previous family experience of attending higher education therefore the support mechanism and assistance must be in place to help them succeed both through the institution they attend and the support structures they access.  These easy to read chapters provided here give valuable insights into the experiences of FiF students and those of their family members and ‘significant’ others who go down this challenging path to better their life opportunities.” (Sue Trinidad, Director, National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, John Curtin Institute of Public Policy, Australia)

“Drawing together a range of perspectives, this book opens fresh insights into an important group of university students. It reframes ideas about who participates in higher education, and the identities and expectations they bring to education and social facets of their study. The book explores core facets of university through the lens of large but as-yet under-explored group of students, and furnishes insights for people who work with students, university leaders, and of course students and their families.” (Hamish Coates , Professor of Higher Education, Melbourne CSHE, Australia)

“Challenging the reader to consider all of the dimensions and characteristics of first in family (FiF) university students, this book highlights the complexity and richness of these students’ lives and experiences. Drawing on the literature and surveys and interviews with both FiF students and members of their families, this beautifully crafted and written work breaks new ground in ‘disrupting the deficit’ and providing inspiration for university leaders, scholars and practitioners.” (Marcia Devlin, Professor of Learning Enhancement and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Learning and Quality), Federation University Australia)

“Higher education is one of the most efficient mechanisms we have for social mobility. This work serves to remind us, all over again, of HE’s transformative potential and how deeply personal the learning journey is for first-in-family students, their families and communities. Uniquely, it gives voice to previously unexamined segments of this vulnerable population. It thus provides critical new understandings that must be leveraged with immediate intentionality to ensure that inclusion, belonging and success are not left to chance. This is an important contribution and should be read by all in our sector who are committed to the assurance of equity and excellence.” (Sally Kift, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), James Cook University &President, Australian Learning and Teaching Fellows)