Research Design and Methodology

The facilitation of a high quality student experience has been a focus of strategic planning and operational delivery at UCC for a number of years. This became visible within the earlier UCC Strategic Plan 2008–2012 where one of the strategic goals was 'Improving the Student Experience'. As part of this activity, a Technical Working Group was tasked with describing and measuring the UCC Student Experience through the design and implementation of the UCC SES. To this end, underand post-graduates, recruited from broad but non-exclusive categories, were randomly selected and invited to attend a focus group discussion. The focus group research served as the basis for the development of a survey instrument designed to measure the student experience (Kitzinger 1995; Millward 2006). A student experience survey of all registered students of UCC was developed under the direction of the then Vice-President for the Student Experience and the Vice-President for Teaching and Learning. A series of focus groups elicited student views and aided the technical working group to construct a University-wide questionnaire. The UCC Student Experience Survey (UCC SES) was first administered in 2009 and biennially thereafter. This paper is a discourse analysis of unique and previously undocumented primary questionnaire material harvested from the university Student Experience Survey (SES) (UCC, SES 2009, 2011, 2013). In addition, we examine and analyse recent interview data generated from a new study on student experience, 'Facilitating a High Quality Student Experience: finessing approaches (FHQSE)' which aims to capture 'close-up' expectations, perceptions, hopes and aspirations of a small group of incoming students at UCC. Throughout this paper, we draw on quotes from the survey material.

An inductive approach for analysis of the qualitative and quantitative data was adopted, beginning with open coding of the raw textual data into themes and categories (Strauss and Corbin 1990). Complex themes and categories then emerged and formed the initial framework of analysis. Clear links between the underlying structure of student experiences and the findings derived from the analysis and re-analysis of raw data were established. Finally, aspects of the Threshold Concept/Liminality framework that are evident and grounded in the raw data were explored. Like others, we found this a relevant and highly applicable model (Backett and Davison 1995; Meyer and Land 2006; Stolee et al. 1999; Turner 1969). The approach provides a lens through which to further explore and develop institutional approaches and sector-wide best practice that facilitates and supports a high quality student experience. At the heart of the approach is a desire to link and further develop theoretical frameworks to practice in today's universities. The objectives of this paper are to generate perspectives on how students deal with the subjective university experience: the enactment, the expectations, transitions, turning points, change and challenges. We analyze the notion of moving towards and through liminal or 'stuck' places. Whilst we acknowledge the unsettling nature of liminality for some students, we also appreciate the transformative and emergent nature of the liminal space. Our discussion is followed by an examination of the ways in which research has informed policy making at an institutional level, as evidenced by the implementation of strategies to facilitate student progression through what could be described as 'stuck' spaces.

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