Academic development and support at a tertiary institution :|bnarratives of second year at-risk students
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In South Africa it is found that students are not prepared for tertiary education. Many tertiary institutions have academic development and support units to support the enrolled students. These units are responsible for providing academic support programmes to at-risk students. At the North-West University there is an academic development and support unit at each of its three campuses. I only engaged with the academic development and support unit at the Vaal Triangle Campus. This research study was aimed at exploring the narratives of second year at-risk students on this campus. The narratives gave the at-risk students a voice to assist the Academic Development and Support unit in reconceptualising the factors contributing to the profiles of at-risk students and enhancing its academic support programmes. A scholarly literature review was conducted to identify the factors that contribute to the profiles of at-risk students. This included engaging with the factors that contributed to students being academically prepared, underprepared and at-risk. A differentiation was made between underprepared and at-risk students. The literature study also explored the nature of the academic support programmes at the North-West University, Vaal Triangle Campus. When the qualitative research design was employed a critical theory paradigm framed the research study and a life design narrative methodology was used. Data was generated using a self-administered biographical questionnaire to ascertain the students’ profiles and then the student participants were given narrative prompts to write their narratives. The research environment was the North-West University, Vaal Triangle Campus because I specifically explored their academic support programmes. The purposive sampling method was used to select the at-risk student participants. The method of data analysis used was critical narrative analysis. Eight prominent themes emerged from the main data findings: financing studies, institutional support, ADS support programmes, time management, academic and social integration (within the tertiary institution), collaboration (learning from peers), career path planning, and developing academic goals. The theme ‘financing studies’ was shown to be an ecological factor which causes students to become negative about their studies because the students are not able to sustain their finances. Institutional support is available to the students but they find the support structures intimidating. It emerged that ADS support programmes are only used by at-risk students after they receive a warning letter. Time management was a very prominent theme; it was revealed that the students have not developed the necessary skills to cope in a tertiary institution environment. Students have to make the transition from secondary school to a tertiary institution and it is often difficult for them to integrate academically and socially into the institution. Since career path planning is often not done, the students pick the wrong qualification; consequently they become negative about their studies. Students experience difficulty in developing academic goals to assist them in obtaining their qualification successfully. From the main findings it became evident that students should be given opportunities to meet with an academic advisor to assist them with planning their academic career path. If students can access the academic support programmes provided to them at an earlier stage, they may be able to integrate academically and socially into the tertiary institution environment, work collaboratively to learn from their peers, set attainable goals, develop their learning strategies and time management skills, and become responsible towards their studies rather than becoming negative towards their studies, not performing well academically and becoming at-risk students. After reflecting on my research study I make suggestions to reconceptualise the current academic support programmes.
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