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You are reading: Crossing the threshold: What are the experiences of male learners transitioning into higher education from an enabling course?

Jacinta Margaret McNamara, University of Wollongong
Doctor of Education thesis


When mature-age students return to study within higher education, they are presented with opportunities for life changing experiences. Many more students who are mature-age and from diverse backgrounds are now commencing university studies as part of the widening participation phenomenon. While quantitative data are readily available concerning these students, less well known are the lived experiences of the learners who undertake this journey. The focus of this study is an exploration of the experiences of one such group of learners, namely mature-age males entering university through an enabling pathway. Older males often return to education in order to improve their job prospects. This was the case for a group of 10 mature-age males who lived in what was once a traditional blue-collar city, “Westbeach”, undergoing economic transformation. Using qualitative methodology in the form of a narrative case study allowed for the in-depth exploration of the experiences of these participants.

The thesis focussed on the impact of the participants’ social and cultural capitals and identity formation as part of their transition into higher education from an enabling course. Also examined were the educational and personal outcomes of this interaction. Underpinning the research was the theoretical framing of Bourdieu’s social reproduction theory, Mezirow’s transformational learning theory and the concept of possible selves as applied to higher education. The findings show that learners’ habituses and capitals that had developed from their communities and families underwent changes and adaptations, to varying degrees, in order to adjust to their new environment. The participants also experienced changes to their identities in moving from manual work in traditionally male held roles to positioning themselves as university students. Despite the difficulties encountered and the barriers that needed to be overcome, the educational and personal outcomes for these students were predominantly positive. This research has implications for the ways universities adapt to the inclusion of male mature-age students and makes recommendations regarding more flexible approaches. This thesis sheds light onto an under-researched group of learners. Further exploration is now required into the experiences of male students from diverse backgrounds who form part of the rich tapestry that is higher education in Australia.

Read the full thesis, Crossing the threshold: What are the experiences of male learners transitioning into higher education from an enabling course?

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