Support crucial for First Generation students

Going to university is a substantial achievement for anybody but for an individual who is the first in their family to do so, a tertiary education is particularly significant.

There are multiple perspectives on the reasoning behind this. Hailing from a family where no one has attended university can make preparing for the transition a difficult process, with some studies suggesting there is a steep learning curve for not only the student but their families too.

There is also the argument that first-in-family students are, in addition to handling their regular workload, spending excessive amounts of time and energy reassuring family members that studying is a worthwhile investment and the correct choice for them.

As a member of the first-in-family demographic, I should be well versed to speak about the challenges facing students in the same position but the reality is, I never really felt any different to anyone else at university. In fact, my parents were the ones who were really eager for me to get a degree, even though I wasn’t keen on the idea initially.

However, this isn’t the case for everyone. Figures from the Australian Survey of Student Engagement suggest that 34 per cent of first-in-family students think about dropping out in their second year of university, nearly double that of other students (18 per cent).

This is a serious concern and one that needs to be addressed. The Good Universities Guide 2019 has introduced the First Generation rating, which identifies the proportion of domestic students commencing a bachelor degree whose parents’ education is known and did not exceed Year 12.

This metric is really important because it encourages universities to implement programs that create an environment conducive to supporting students who are new to the higher education system. For those who fall under the First Generation category, this rating sends a strong message that whether your parents attended university or not, there is ample opportunity to pursue a tertiary education

That isn’t to say there aren’t already initiatives in place. One such example is Griffith University’s Uni-Reach program, which provides transition support to those from diverse backgrounds including first in family students through pre-orientation sessions, mentoring and regular contact with Student Equity Program Officers.

It is vital that all Australian universities continue committing resources to attract first-in-family students. A single enrolment can have wide-ranging implications, with the potential to shift attitudes surrounding higher education so that other family members consider it a realistic pathway.

The value of an institution goes well beyond their performance in the academic and research sphere, and it’s important to recognise universities that are focused on giving everyone the opportunity to study and reach their potential.

To view how universities compare based on The Good Universities Guide’s new First Generation metric, visit


Chris Lester is Good Education Media’s Chief Executive Officer and brings to the sector more than two decades of experience in strategic management, business development and financial services. Chris was the first in his family to attend university, undertaking a Bachelor of Commerce from Deakin University and a Graduate Diploma in Applied Finance and Investment from Finsia. Learn more about Chris.

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