First year students’ experience of access and engagement at a University of Technology
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Universities in South Africa have opened access to a diverse population of students, which has resulted in an increased participation of first-generation, low-income and mature students. Concomitant to the widening access, issues relating to retention and success continue to remain a challenge. Student engagement persists as a key concern at universities both locally and globally. This study draws on the theoretical observations of Tinto (1975, 1993), and Leach and Zepke (2011) to explore First Year (FY) students’ pre-university nonacademic factors and its influence on student engagement experiences with institutional support initiatives. Data was collected from a quantitative questionnaire completed by 195 participants and from a follow up of qualitative data gathered from focus group discussions and semi-structured interviews. The findings from this study reveal that students’ preuniversity non-academic factors play a significant role in the way students engage with institutional support initiatives. One such factor include students’ motivation and resilience to succeed and the key role it plays in enhancing their engagement with peers and lecturers at the university.