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Transformation at the cultural interface: Exploring the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students undertaking university studies

Hill, Braden (2020) Transformation at the cultural interface: Exploring the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students undertaking university studies. Masters by Research thesis, Murdoch University.

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While transformative learning has been investigated in a range of contexts, there remains little known about the extent to which higher education is transformative for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Therefore, this study explores the experiences of Indigenous students undertaking university studies in order to understand the nuances and complexities of their journeys into and throughout the cultural interface within the context of higher education.

This qualitative interpretive study applied narrative inquiry to investigate the experiences of 19 undergraduate Indigenous university students. Written narratives, focus groups and in-depth interviews were used to collate 19 individual student stories for analysis and interpretation.

The key themes emergent from these narratives related to the students’ development of self-efficacy, the negotiation of their families’ perceptions and expectations and the affirming of their cultural identities as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The two key theoretical concepts used to guide the discussion of the themes were Nakata’s (2007) cultural interface theory and Mezirow’s (1991) transformative learning theory.

The findings of this study revealed that university learning had fostered, for most of the student participants, a sense of transformation and change. New relationships with peers were found to be a critical part of the students’ support network while at university. As the students progressed throughout their studies, they gained confidence and a sense of belonging within the university community. Such enablers fostered an increased sense of self-worth and wellbeing that further developed the students’ sense of self-efficacy and ability to succeed at the cultural interface of higher education. Family was seen as vitally important in relation to support for the students but also at times a challenge to be negotiated carefully. Finally, it was also found that university had strengthened the students’ relationship to their Indigeneity. These findings have key implications for the way institutions support and teach Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and provides a nuanced insight into their university journeys at the cultural interface.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters by Research)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): College of Science, Health, Engineering and Education
United Nations SDGs: Goal 4: Quality Education
Supervisor(s): Nilson, Caroline, Uink, Bep and Fetherston, Catherine
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