Henderson, Robyn and Noble, Karen (2009) FYI (First Year Infusion): a vaccine for the first year plague in a regional university. In: SPERA 2009: Education in a Digital Present: Enriching Rural Communities, 8-10 Jul 2009, Adelaide, South Australia.
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The massification of higher education in Australia has set the spotlight firmly upon issues of access, participation and retention across the sector. Yet recognition that not all groups of people have equal opportunity to access higher education is not new. With this context in mind, this paper begins by describing an approach to the first year of university experience that has been developed in a regional university. At this university, the student population includes a high proportion from low socioeconomic backgrounds and rural and geographically isolated areas, as well as students who are 'returning to education as adults after missing educational opportunities in their youth' (University of Southern Queensland, 2006, p. 5). Whilst some might argue that the enrolment of students who are under-prepared for university study has reached plague proportions, this paper describes how a Faculty of Education has developed and implemented a systemic approach to enhance participation and to support such students in their experiences of beginning tertiary study. The First Year Infusion Program – FYI for short – uses the notion of a learning community and works to dispel deficit discourses about students, while fostering social integration with embedded academic preparedness. In particular, the program promotes a problem-solving approach, assists students to draw on strengths from their lives outside university, and offers 'just-in-time' social and academic support. By engaging staff and students in evaluative dialogue, the program contrasts with traditional approaches that offer only academic support to students. Instead, there is recognition that social support and the development of a learning community are essential to academic success. In this supportive environment, the approach works to enhance students' problem-solving capacities and to develop a sense of belonging as they make their transition into university study. Additional institutional benefits are enhanced retention and progression rates. This paper describes the program and identifies the impacts that adopting the Discourse of 'university student' has had on first year students who have participated.
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