Exploring first-year students’ demands from the perspectives of student support structures : a world café study
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Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in South Africa are characterised by an absence of relevant knowledge on how to assist students who struggle in this environment. Students in South Africa do not receive the guidance and support they need to meet the challenges and demands they are facing, as they typically suffer from multiple problems and are referred from one service to the next. The result is students who underperform, which impacts negatively on their success rate within HEIs in South Africa. For this reason, the main objective of the present study was to contribute to a theoretical framework that will assist the student support structures in predicting and managing the demands that first-year students face in an integrated way. The theoretical model that was used as a framework was the Job Demands and Resources (JD-R) model, focusing on the demands aspect of the model. The JDR model has been used successfully in the work context many times, but there was a need to adapt it to the student environment to make it specific and relevant for the HEI context. There was a critical need for the development of a theoretical framework to guide support services for students and practitioners within the South African university setup. The present study entailed a qualitative research. The researcher conducted the study from the epistemological stance of Constructivism. This approach is based on the principal that an objective reality does not exist. By taking such a constructivism stance, the ontological approach chosen was relativism. Relativism can be explained and made relevant to this study by the presupposition that reality is not static, and that each person creates his or her own reality. Seeing that reality is unique to each person the researcher’s attempt is to understand the construct of reality provided by the participants. Finally, as a qualitative study, the emicetic stance has also been incorporated. The research setting was based at a HEI in South Africa. The participants (N=36) included members of various support structures on the particular campus, the Dean of Students, Student Representative Council, Centre for Student Guidance and Development, House Committee members and hostel parents. Three rounds of World Café sessions were hosted with 12 participants in each round. During the sessions, the discussions were recorded and notes were made by the researchers. Together with the literature, these recordings were coded using the programme ATLAS.ti. From the literature study and findings from the World Café sessions it was evident that there are five broad and distinctive themes of demands which describes first-year students’ experience. These include: academic obstacles, financial stressors, career obstacles, social disengagement and personal hindrances. Within these themes unique findings came to the fore. The unique findings of the present study within the themes of academic obstacles, financial stressors, career obstacles, social disengagement and personal hindrances, led to three re-emerging concepts or patterns, namely uncertainty, pride and ignorance. This research study aims to contribute to the literature and provide assistance to HEIs on the demands experienced by first-year students, according to feedback from student support structures. In this regard, the study provides a theoretical framework for student support services and the university about expected outcomes. The present study contributed to research on the demands section of the Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) model that was adapted for the South African HEI context.
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