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The lived experience of university students from low-income backgrounds: an interpretative phenomenological analysis of academic resilience.

Gauntlett, E., 2019. The lived experience of university students from low-income backgrounds: an interpretative phenomenological analysis of academic resilience. Doctoral Thesis (Doctoral). Bournemouth University.

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GAUNTLETT, Elizabeth Ann_Ph.D._2018.pdf



The aim of this thesis is to explore the phenomenon of academic resilience through the lived experience of low-income university students in UK Higher Education (HE). According to the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), significant resources are devoted to enhancing the retention and success of groups that fall within the scope of widening participation (WP) initiatives, to ensure that all those with the potential to benefit from HE have the opportunity to do so (OFFA 2017). Students from low-income backgrounds are considered high-risk for underachievement and attrition, but little is known about why these students are often successful despite multiple challenges. The phenomenon of resilience, understood as the “overcoming of stress and adversity” or “good outcomes despite risk experiences” (Masten 2001), can offer a positive psychology perspective on this phenomenon. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) interprets how people make sense of major life experiences through in-depth qualitative analysis (Smith et al. 2009), although much resilience research to date is quantitative. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with seven second year students with lowest-household incomes (OFFA threshold <£25,000 per annum (p/a). The perceptions and reflections of these students were explored using IPA, allowing insight into individuals’ “lifeworlds”. Individual accounts were interpreted to produce participant themes, before a cross- case analysis explored the convergence and divergence between accounts. Three superordinate themes from cross-case analysis were identified. “Facticity and positive social orientation” identifies how participants viewed adversity as a meaningful opportunity for growth. “Living authentically amongst others” explored how participants used insight about their strengths and weaknesses to negotiate their way through the new social world of university. “Building social confidence” identified ways in which participants became tougher and gained support from others. Most had developed strong academic identities characterised by goal- focused behaviour, enjoyment of competition with peers and the presence of positive relationships with at least one tutor. The findings offer an alternative, insider perspective on academic resilience to that presented in the existing literature. Analysis suggests that a key strategy for universities may be enabling students’ social relationships through informal and formal strategies such as peer-learning programmes. Subject-related and professional values can also be promoted through teaching and learning activities which enhance engagement and belonging. Staff should deepen their understanding of coping strategies developed by resilient students, particularly those with learning difficulties, recognising them as mechanisms for enhancing success.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information:If you feel that this work infringes your copyright please contact the BURO Manager.
Uncontrolled Keywords:higher education; widening participation; academic resilience; low-income students; interpretative phenomenological analysis
Group:Faculty of Health & Social Sciences
ID Code:32328
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:24 May 2019 13:26
Last Modified:14 Mar 2022 14:16


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