Uncovering Staff Discourses about the First Generation Experience

(PI: Dr Danny Fontaine-Rainen)

Our research on the experiences of first generation university students, both in South Africa (Hamshire, Forsyth, Bell, et al., 2017; Kelly-Laubscher, Paxton, & Majombozi, 2016; Kelly-Laubscher,  Paxton, Majombozi, & Mashele, In Press) and the UK (Hamshire, Forsyth, Bell, et al., In Press; Hamshire, Willgoss, & Wibberley,2012, 2013) has highlighted that some students, especially those who are first in their family to attend university do not feel that they belong at university. We feel that academics, as lecturers, play a key role in shaping the academic environment, particularly the classroom, and thus are key players in creating spaces where all students feel welcome. Tanner and Allen (2007) suggest that lecturers can create more inclusive environments by being culturally competent. In education, the term, cultural competence refers to “…how effective a teacher is for those students who do not share the same personal characteristics or the same cultural background of that teacher.” Therefore, for a lecturer to be culturally competent (Tanner & Allen, 2007) they must have a realistic understanding of the different backgrounds that their students come from. Many lecturers are not first generation students, and so one might assume that they may struggle to understand or may even be misinformed about the first generation experience. However, as far as we can see, no research has investigated this assumption. With research sites at the University of Cape Town and Manchester Metropolitan University the team is working to uncover and unpack staff discourses around their experiences working with and teaching first generation students.


  • Danny Fontaine-Rainen, First Year Experience, Center for Higher Education Development, University of Cape Town (UCT)
  • Roisin Kelly-Laubscher, New Avenues to Teaching Projects Officer, School  of Education, University  College Cork (formerly of UCT),
  • Claire Hamshire, Faculty of Health, Psychology and Social Care, Manchester Metropolitan University,
  • Rachel Forsyth, Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, Manchester Metropolitan University
  • Leza Soldaat, Research Assistant, Center for Higher Education Development, University of Cape Town