This study sought to explore students’ perceptions of the first-year experience in higher education with a special focus on Women’s University in Africa (WUA). The study was centered on three (3) objectives which were to: explore the barriers that students encounter in their first year at WUA; investigate the efficacy of support services meant to facilitate the transition from high school to university for first-year students at WUA; and explore the coping mechanisms used by students during their first-year experience at WUA. The study was located within the qualitative research paradigm and a case study research design was used to delve into the first-year experience within its context using a variety of data sources. The qualitative research paradigm was chosen as it allowed for the capture and broadening of understanding in a holistic way, the dynamic social interactions and experiences of first-year students and the members of the university. The study population comprised two groups viz. three categories of students (first, second, and third years) and the staff members of the university who work closely with students. Non-probability sampling was used to purposively sample ten (10) students from the three categories and two (2) key informants, representing the university. Two semi-structured interview schedules were used as the primary research instruments in this study. Data were collected using in-depth interviews with students and key informants respectively. The interviews audio-tapped while hand-written notes were used in the case where consent for audio-tapping was denied by a participant. Data gathered from the study was analysed in three phases: orientation to the data, working the data, and final composition of analysed data and drawing of conclusions. To explore the barriers that students encounter in their first year at WUA, the study found among other things, that some participants failed to attend the First-Year Orientation Programme because of work and other commitments, had challenges to manage study and other competing demands, expressed their dissatisfaction at the unreliable internet service at WUA, and indicated that they struggled to raise the full fees as required by the University. In terms of the efficacy of support services meant to facilitate the transition from high school to university for first-year students, the study established that there was a need to sensitise the new students to the pivotal role of the Office of Student Affairs and that attendance and participation in the First-Year Orientation Programme had many benefits to new students. Concerning the coping mechanisms used by students during their first-year experience at WUA, participants indicated the coping mechanisms as: the use of on-campus peer support among new students; making the best out of what comes one’s way; prioritisation, determination, and first things first; and holding the peace and helplessness. The main limitation of the study is the lack of generalisation of findings given the small sample size which was not representative. It is clear from the study that the first-year experience has many dimensions which the new student has to bravely address during the transition from high school to university education. This study revealed that some new students were aware of the new demands on them in the pursuit of a university education while others simply had to adapt quickly to the new learning environment. The study recommended among other things, for robust follow-up programmes after the usual First-Year Orientation Programme at the University.
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RUFORUM Theses and Dissertations
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Dr. Victor Chikadzi and Dr. Eric S.M.S. Makura