An investigation into the relationship between student identity and academic literacy at a private higher education institution

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Although academic development programmes have been well researched in the South African context, much of the research has focused on programmes at mainstream public universities and less is known about the programmes run by smaller private institutions. This research aims to identify and discuss themes around student identity and how these themes relate to academic literacy acquisition for students on a one-year bridging course programme at a private university. Gee’s (2001) identity framework is used to explore and compare how students on a bridging course were viewed by the institution, and how these students saw themselves. An analysis of data gathered through interviews, focus groups, questionnaires, and course-related materials revealed a strong deficit discourse around students on the bridging course. The institution’s view of literacy as autonomous, the deficit discourse surrounding the students, and the way these students were positioned in the institution, meant that students, although highly motivated to achieve a degree qualification, had not begun to develop the beginning of either an academic or a vocational identity. The institution did not successfully enable students to view academic practice and discourse as part of their identity, and as a result bridging course students did not adopt the practices and discourses around academic literacy as they were not convinced of their validity and legitimacy. Given that academic literacy is central to success on a degree programme, these students were not adequately prepared for their first year of degree study. The findings from this research show the need for wider research into whether academic development programmes at private institutions are really meeting the needs of the students who enrol onto these programmes.