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Access to success: qualitative accounts of successful Access/Foundation Program students from University of KwaZulu-Natal Pietermaritzburg Campus.

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Higher education in South Africa has undergone numerous changes over the past few decades. These changes have focused on addressing the discriminatory practices that the past apartheid laws (e.g. Bantu Education Act) have had on higher education in South Africa. As such, higher education in South Africa has been on an ongoing process of positive transformation so as to provide equal opportunities for previously disadvantaged groups of students. The increase of participation in higher education through the expansion of formal access for all learners, was one strategy that was used to contribute to the transformation of higher education. In recent years, conversations in higher education have shifted towards increasing epistemological access and success for students. This study aimed to explore success stories and accounts of students who entered the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) through access programmes. The study sought to explore how academically successful students who started their university studies through UKZN access programmes account for their academic success, what aspects of the university environment enabled and constrained these students’ academic success, and what aspects of their personal history enabled and constrained their academic success. The findings of this study revealed that there are various aspects in a student’s life that contribute to their success in university. These aspects range from academic factors, to family background, and to social and personal challenges. The findings from this study (such as sub-theme 1:1 attention and motivation, sub-theme 1:2 preparation and transitioning sub-theme 1:3 smaller classes and style of lecturing) are presented according to three thematic clusters, namely 1) The benefits of an access programme for academic success, 2) Explaining academic success by access programme students, and 3) Challenges that impacted on access programme students’ academic success. Within the three thematic clusters, eight sub-themes were identified as factors that either contributed to the participants’ academic success or were challenges that impacted on the participants’ academic success. The findings of this study highlight aspects that are worth considering when working towards optimising student success in university. For instance, it was evident in the findings that doing the access programme prepared students for transitioning into university and equipped them with the foundational skills needed for academic success. As such, the researcher highlighted the need for higher education institutions to enhance support programmes or even extend programmes (such as the access programme) to all students entering university so as to assist them with transitioning and to equip them with the skills needed for academic success. The findings also highlighted the challenges that successful non-traditional students encounter during their studies such as finances, language/communication barriers and time management amongst other challenges. The awareness of the realities that successful access programme students experience is important especially for institutions and other stakeholders who are intending optimise student success by addressing challenges that present themselves in the students studying experience.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.