First year university students: attitudes and motivations

Document Type


Publication details

Yoxall, JS & Pont, K 2015, 'First year university students: attitudes and motivations', paper presented to the 2015 Scholarship of Teaching Symposium, Gold Coast, Australia, 22 September.

Abstract available on open access


At the present time In Australia, students can access various forms of financial support to complete university qualifications. This has resulted in the tertiary system seeing an increasing proportion of ‘first in family’ students enrolling, many of whom are also from low SES groups. Research to date has found that first in family tertiary students are at greater risk of withdrawing from their course and those who continue often achieve lower grades. Some studies have suggested that differences in acquired social and cultural capital may account for the additional challenges first in family students face in adapting to the university environment. In psychological terms, limited opportunity for social learning in regard to tertiary education may impact student’s self-perceptions in regard to capacity, and motivation in regard to their own pursuit of a university degree. Using the psychological theory of Self-Determination (SDT) we investigated the manner in which self-determination varies across different groups of university students, postulating that first in family university students’ family experience or conditions have been less likely to support and foster experiences of autonomy, competence and relatedness. As SDT theory suggests that the degree to which these needs are support, or conversely, frustrated, in a social context, predicts adaption and coping and wellness in that environment, levels of Self-Determination may predict academic success or conversely, early withdrawal. We present preliminary data (n=83) from a pilot study conducted in Session 1, 2015 with students enrolled in core first year units of study within the School of Health and Human Sciences.