Submission note: "A thesis submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy [to the] School of Education, College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce, La Trobe University, Bundoora".
The deeming of equivalence between a Vocational Education and Training (VET) Diploma and the first year of an undergraduate degree, makes it possible for VET students to gain enough credit for the VET Diploma to by-pass the first year of a three year undergraduate degree. Consequently, they commence their studies in the second year of a three year undergraduate program. This means their first encounters are played out in the second year of an undergraduate degree program. Consequently, there is no exposure to the first year transition pedagogy that is now accepted as so important to future learning. Despite the fact that Kift (2009) identifies the need to acknowledge diverse entry points when considering the mediation of the first year experience (FYHE), research into first encounters of what I refer to as VET credit transferees, remains scarce. A qualitative case-study method using eleven VET credit transferees, eleven mainstream teachers and ten study support teachers in a single-sector University and dual-sector UniTech in Melbourne, combines with Thorne’s (2008) Interpretive Description as a research design, to develop detailed engagement with the lived experiences of VET credit transferees’ first encounters with higher education (HE). Once the angle of vision is extended to include inner and outer learning environments (Entwistle, McCune and Hounsell, 20012) and the human elements existing therein, the study shows the potential impact of the type of pathway and educational factors like amount of credit allowed, previous learning, quality of learning and teaching, support and agency over learning, and congruence between inner learning-teaching environments across VET and HE to impact the nature of the VET credit transferees’ first encounters with HE. Taking these factors into account, it is found that transition from VET into HE through the credit transfer system requires more extensive research as it is found in this study to be neither seamless nor smooth. Despite the limited size of the study, five distinct pathways are noted; each with identifiably differences in the nature of VET credit transferees’ first encounters’ experiences. The study identifies the most positive first encounters to exist in the UniTech where students are on pathway 1. While on this pathway, students move through the same discipline field from VET to HE, have completed an Advanced Diploma, accepted eighteen credit points, experience congruence between pedagogy in VET and HE and, are actively engaged in decision making processes that ensure agency. Concomitantly, these students can also become placed on pathway 2, where they enter different discipline fields of study in HE than those studied in VET. Students on pathway 2 note strong differences between VET and HE inner environments and identify first encounters that do not enhance learning capacity. Other students entering the UniTech do so on pathway 3. These students refuse the credit offered so their first encounters with HE are in the first year of their three year degree. They also enter into the same discipline field as they studied in VET. These students note congruence in pedagogy between VET and HE and also identify positive first encounters. In the single-sector University, students on pathway 4 also enter the same discipline field as they studied in VET. However, these students are also forced into unrelated discipline fields on pathway 5. Nevertheless, whether on pathway 4 or 5, these students identify a lack of congruence between VET and HE pedagogy. They also perceive that their first encounters do not enhance their learning capacity. As one of the first post-Bradley studies that extends the current angle of vision upon which prior knowledge is based, and a study that identifies the potential impact of the nature of pathways on enhancing learning capacity, this study is seen to be of significance in identifying a “desperate need” (Thorne, 2008) for qualitative research into VET credit transferees’ first encounters with HE.
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