Academic, social and economic experiences of first-year students: Case study

Keywords: academic and social integration, academic development, first year experience, student access, university dropout


The main precept of the current study was to explore first-year students’ academic, social and economic experiences at a University of Technology (pseudonym: University of Hard Knocks (UHK)). In response to the research questions, the study sought to interrogate the challenges faced by students by finding out whether they would choose the university again given a second chance, and if not why not. It also sought to establish how students would like the institution to improve in order to enhance first-year students’ experiences (FYSE). The approach applied was both quantitative and qualitative to allow students to reveal their experiences of the university, while simultaneously expressing such perceptions in descriptive format (for the quantitative part). Guided by Tinto’s (2013) student departure theory, data were collected using semi-structured questionnaires distributed and sent through invites to all 16 000 first (1st) year students – which served as the population. However, rested upon the research questions for the current study and given that the instrument used was semi-structured, data was received from participants totally 4020 for the quantitative aspect (mainly descriptive). Of this sample (4020), and for the purpose of the current research questions, forty (40) participants were further selected randomly, to evaluate their responses as directed and coordinated by the current research objectives. The results revealed that to ensure appropriate economic and social integration, efforts should be made to automate and secure university processes and, most importantly, provide accredited/licensed accommodation. To achieve effective academic integration systems, learning space and the lack of transparency in accommodation allocations should be addressed. It is therefore recommended that UHK considers economic, social and academic integration processes and procedures to improve the campus experience.


Author Biographies

A. Bayaga, Nelson Mandela University, Gqeberha

Professor. A. Bayaga

Department of Secondary School Teacher Education



L. L. Lekena, Mangosuthu University of Technology, Durban

Director: Strategic Planning, Directorate of Institutional Planning and Research

C. Selepe, Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria

Senior Director, Office of the Vice-Chancellor

A. du Plessis, Nelson Mandela University, Gqeberha

Intermediate Phase Mathematics & ICT in Education

S. Blignaut, Nelson Mandela University, Gqeberha

Postgraduate studies

T. Morar, Nelson Mandela University, Gqeberha

Deputy Dean: The Faculty of Education


Adler, J., S. Raju, A. S. Beveridge, S. Wang, J. Zhu, and E. M. Zimmermann. 2008. “College adjustment in University of Michigan students with Crohn’s and colitis.” Inflammatory Bowel Disease 14(9): 1281–1286.

Bigger, J. 2016. “Advising first year students.” Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Advising-first-year-students.aspx. (Accessed 23 February 2016).

Bitzer, E. M. 2009. “Academic and social integration in three first-year groups: A holistic perspective.” South African Journal of Higher Education 23(2): 225–245.

Brinkworth, R., B. McCann, C. Matthews, and M. K. Nordströ. 2008. “First year expectations and experiences: Student and teacher perspectives.” Higher Education 58: 1–17.

Council on Higher Education (CHE). 2014. “Higher education monitor: The state of higher education in South Africa.” Education_Reviewed_Two_decades_of_Democracy_including_chapter_on_Governance. (Accessed 21 September 2020).

Egesah, O. B. and M. N. Wahome. 2017. “University Students’ Learning Experiences: Nuanced Voices from Graduate Tracer Study.” Journal of Higher Education in Africa 15(1): 43‒56.

Gardner, J. N. 1986. “The freshman-year experience.” The Journal of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers 61(4): 261–274.

Garza, E. and R. Bowden. 2014. “The impact of a first year development course on student success in a community college: An empirical investigation.” American Journal of Educational Research 2(6): 402–419.

Kagondu, R. and Simmy M. Marwa. 2017. “Quality Issues in Kenya’s Higher Education Institutions.” Journal of Higher Education in Africa 15(1): 23‒42.

Krause, K. L., R. Hartley, R. James, and C. McInnis. 2005. “The first year experience in Australian universities: Findings from a decade of national studies.” download?doi= (Accessed 21 September 2020).

Konings, P. 2009. “University Crisis and Student Strikes in Africa: The Case of the University of Buea (Cameroon).” Journal of Higher Education in Africa 7(1&2): 211–233.

Lekena, L. L. and A. Bayaga. 2018. “Trend analysis of first year student experience in university.” South African Journal of Higher Education 32(2): 157‒175.

Letseka, M. and S. Maile. 2008. High university dropout rates: A threat to South Africa’s future. HSRC Press.

Lewin, T. and M. Mawoyo. 2014. Student access and success: Issues and interventions in South African universities. Inyatelo.

McInnis, C. 2001. “Researching the first year experience: Where to from here?” Higher Education Research and Development 20: 105–114.

Moja, T., T. M. Luescher, and M. Schreiber. 2016. “The first-year experience, student transitions and institutional transformation.” Journal of Student Affairs in Africa 4(1): 2307–6267. 10.14426/jsaa.v4i1.140.

Naylor, R., C. Baik, and S. Arkoudis. 2018. “Identifying attrition risk based on the first year experience.” Higher Education Research & Development 37(2): 328–342. 10.1080/07294360.2017.1370438.

Ogude, N. A., W. Kilfoil, and G. du Plessis. 2012. “An institutional model for improving student retention and success at the University of Pretoria.” The International Journal of the First Year in Higher Education 3(1): 21–34.

Parker, J. D. A., L. J. Summerfeldt, M. J. Hogan, and S. A. Majeski. 2004. “Emotional intelligence and academic success: Examining the transition from high school to university.” Personality and Individual Differences 36(1): 163–173.

Penn-Edwards, S. and S. Donnison. 2011. “Engaging with higher education academic support: A first year student teacher transition model.” European Journal of Education 46(4): 566–580.

Speckman, M., and M. Mandew. (Ed.). 2014. Perspectives of student affairs in South Africa. South Africa: African Minds. Van Schaik.

Schlossberg, N. 2006. “Moving in, moving through, moving out: Nancy K. Schlossberg’s transition theory.” Process of Adult Development 27: 78‒89.

Shange, T. G. C. 2015. “Perceptions of Engineering students, lecturers and academic development practitioners about academic development classes at a university of technology.” Journal of Student Affairs in Africa 3(2): 33–44.

Scott, I. 2008. First-year experience conference. Stellenbosch press.

Tinto, V. 2006. “Research and practice of student retention: What next?” Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory and Practice 8(1): 1–19.

Tinto, V. 2013. “Theoretical underpinnings and research framework for student success.” (Accessed 2 June 2020.)

Tinto, V. 2014. “Tinto’s South Africa lectures.” Journal of Student Affairs in Africa 2(2): 5–28.

Van Zyl, A. 2015. “University Dropout.” The Coastal Weekly 4: 56‒78. May 18–22.

How to Cite
Bayaga, A., L. L. Lekena, C. Selepe, A. du Plessis, S. Blignaut, and T. Morar. 2022. “Academic, Social and Economic Experiences of First-Year Students: Case Study”. South African Journal of Higher Education 36 (2), 8-24.
General Articles