Australian Journal of Education

Article Title

‘Go boldly, dream large!’: The challenges confronting non-traditional students at university


This article examines the challenges facing non-traditional university students—and to a lesser extent their lecturers in ‘the stretched academy’—who are increasingly enrolling in university courses in Australia and elsewhere. The article looks at this issue from the perspective of non-traditional students at a regional campus in Victoria. These students include many from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who do not conform to the conventional idea of the Australian university student. Typically, for most of the postwar period, the traditional university student was a recent graduate from high school with good grades and enrolled full-time. Most importantly, such students came predominantly from high socio-economic backgrounds that equipped them with the kind of cultural capital that provides a head start in the academic environment. By contrast, non-traditional university students of the last two decades or so are a much more diverse cohort consisting of large numbers of full-fee-paying international students, older, mature-age students studying mainly on a part-time basis by distance education, and increasing numbers of domestic students who only in recent times have aspired to a university education. Many of these latter students are ostensibly full-time but in reality spend more time in paid part-time jobs than they do on campus. These ‘student-workers’ are the main focus of this article because it is the dual role of the undergraduate as worker and scholar that is of concern to university personnel especially in the context of the widening participation agenda of the federal government. Such students are compelled to support themselves in term-time employment, which inevitably affects their commitment to study and consequently their academic prospects. The article concludes with the suggestion that slogans such as those in the title are misleading if they are not accompanied by financial incentives and a more inclusive curriculum that acknowledges the study–work challenges facing non-traditional university students.