Transformations and Self Discovery: Stories of Women Returning to Education

Over the past two decades a global movement towards improving access to higher education for a much wider student cohort has been growing. The typical student is no longer necessarily a young school-leaver whose parents have also been to university. Increasingly, university students are the first in their families, and perhaps first amongst their friends, to be there. Just as often, students are coming to university later in life, carrying with them considerable responsibilities. For women, this can be particularly problematic as they face not only the inevitable rigours of study, but also the expectations that they must not neglect their ‘normal’ family responsibilities. This book tells the stories of seven Australian women, each of whom has come to university in their thirties or forties as the ‘first generation’ within their families to do so. Narrated, in their own words, their stories reveal how and why they made the decision to come to university, what helps and hinders their studies, and how their lives are changing as a result. What emerges is a powerful message about the transformative powers of education. The stories of these women touch upon universal themes, which will be of particular interest to other women contemplating further education, as well as to academics and educators across a range of teaching and learning contexts.

Dr Cathy Stone

Director, Student Experience Unit, Open Universities Australia

Dr Cathy Stone

Dr. Cathy Stone is a social worker with extensive experience in university counselling, teaching and student services’     management in the Australian Higher Education Sector. Currently, Cathy is the Director of the Student Experience Unit with Open Universities Australia and is a Conjoint Senior Lecturer with the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle, Australia.


Dr Sarah O’Shea

Senior Lecturer in Adult, Vocational and Higher Education, University of Wollongong, Australia

Dr Sarah O'Shea Dr. Sarah O’Shea has taught within the Australian adult education sector for nearly two decades, teaching in a variety of contexts including training organisations, TAFE colleges and higher education institutions. Currently, Sarah is a Senior Lecturer in Adult, Vocational and Higher Education at the University of Wollongong, Australia.

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Other publications:

Trends in policies, programs and practices in the Australasian First Year Experience literature 2000-2010. The First Year in Higher Education Research Series on Evidence-based Practice. Number 1

FYHE Research Series 1


This publication is the first in a series of scholarly reports on research-based practice related to the First Year Experience in Higher Education. This report synthesises evidence about practice-based initiatives and pragmatic approaches in Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Australia that aim to enhance the experience of commencing students in the higher education sector.

Trends in policies, programs and practices … examines the first year experience literature from 2000-2010. It acknowledges the uniqueness of the Australasian socio-political context and its influence on the interests and output of researchers. The review surveyed almost 400 empirical reports and conceptual discussions produced over the decade that dealt with the stakeholders, institutions and the higher education sector in Australasia. The literature is examined through two theoretical constructs or “lenses”: first, a set of first year curriculum design principles and second, the generational approach to describing the maturation of initiatives. These outcomes and suggested directions for further research provide the challenges and the opportunities for FYE adherents, both scholars and practitioners, to grapple with in the next decade.

Nelson, K. J., Clarke, J. A., Kift, S. M., & Creagh, T. A. (2011). Trends in policies, programs and practices in the Australasian First Year Experience literature 2000–2010 (The First Year in Higher Education Research Series on Evidence-based Practice, No. 1). Brisbane, Australia: Queensland University of Technology. (PDF 2.57MB)