Research Output
'A journey that motivates': Discovering the associate student experience
  Higher education has seen huge growth in the past two decades with degree study becoming an anticipated next step after high school. But access to higher education is still riddled with inequality, and society is calling for equal access for all. The Scottish government have introduced policies to address this imbalance with a focus on working class backgrounds, students with disabilities and specific black minority ethnic groups. Under-represented groups are more likely to access college education and routes from college into university are recognised by the Commission on Widening Access (CoWA) as being fundamental to helping address this imbalance. In 2013, the SFC introduced additional funded places for students taking this route. The students are known as associate students.

This thesis presents empirical work exploring the transition experiences of associate students into computing degrees in Scotland. Students on this journey face transitional barriers as they adapt to the change in culture, come to terms with their altered student identity, and overcome academic and social integration issues. This work explores their experience.

Although several studies (Harris et al., 2013; Jansen & van der Meer, 2012; Polach, 2004) have examined transition into university, no studies have focused on associate students. This thesis provides unique insight into the lived experiences of associate students within the School of Computing and employed the graphical research method of photo-elicitation to gather and document perceptions of students during the first stage of their higher education journey, as they prepare to make the transition from college into a university. Further participants share their experience of transition during the first few weeks at university through photovoice and in-depth IPA interviews, providing insight into the usually unseen aspects of transition, moving home, adjusting to a long commute, experiencing loneliness and anxiety, benefiting from peer support and friendship. Through graphical research methods and interpretative phenomenological analysis, the participants have shaped the research through their narrative, their photographs, and their discussion to form a representation of the phenomenon under examination.

Five superordinate themes emerged from the data demonstrating the significance of social aspects, self-concept, the physical environment, academic differences and preparation. Findings are shared which identified this as a ‘journey that motivated’, one that ‘made university possible’ and one that combined two ‘different worlds’. This thesis found that the students’ perceptions and experiences of transition were diverse and highlight the need to understand the key aspects of adjustment. This study explores a theoretical framework adapted from the Model of Organisational Influence on the Development of Learner Identity (Briggs, Clark, & Hall, 2012), that can be applied across institutions for all students in transition. Grounded in the literature, the framework demonstrates the student perspectives before the transition and their experience after the transition. This framework provides a mechanism for improving the transition for students moving into university study and makes a valuable contribution to computing education.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    07 July 2022

  • Publication Status:


  • DOI:


  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Meharg, D. 'A journey that motivates': Discovering the associate student experience. (Thesis). Edinburgh Napier University. Retrieved from



Transition, higher education, further education, associate students, social integration, academic integration, support, photovoice, photo-elicitation, interpretative phenomenological analysis

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