Understanding transitional challenges and their impact on student attainment and mental health: Does ethnicity make a difference?

By Ciera McKenzie & Isabella Chu

Starting university can be a tremendous life and academic change which can seem daunting. Our research topic focuses on “Understanding transitional challenges and their impact on student attainment and mental health: does ethnicity make a difference?”. We wanted to see if ethnicity has an influence on the transitional challenges a university student may face when starting their university experience and if it affects their perceived academic attainment.

The transitional challenges that we explored include homesickness, struggling with the course, difficulties with accommodation, financial concerns and making friends. There was also the option for participants to say that they did not encounter any challenges. The participants rated the challenges based on the relevancy to their own experience transitioning to university. The challenges were explored in association with its impact on academic progress (rated based on their significance on academic progress). The participants were given a brief overview of what the research topic was about.

The project started during February, when we started planning on how to conduct the research. We drafted our  survey and distributed it on Qualtrics (which was online) during April to June and we analysed the data we collected during July to August. Before starting this project, we gained ethical approval.

There were some challenges faced during the project. For example, using SPSS to analyse the quantitative data at first, was challenging but it slowly became easier with the help of our supervisors and online research. Furthermore, completing the project during the Coronavirus pandemic, meant that all meetings with our supervisors had to be conducted online. This was helpful as it encouraged us to become more independent with our research. We divided the data into a qualitative and quantitative aspect and to overcome this, we both recorded what we found and combined our findings.

From our finding, we could not confirm if ethnicity does make a statistically significant difference in transitional challenges. This might be because our sample did not have a large representation of BAME students. However, we did find that financial concerns seemed to be the most relevant for white participants. For BAME participants, the most relevant transitional challenge was struggling with the course. Qualitative data also indicated that financial concerns seemed to be a frequently recurring transitional challenge between participants. The quantitative data also suggested that White participants are more likely to seek help from the university support services than BAME participants. 53.2% of the white participants sought help to cope with the transitional challenges from the university support services while only 37.5% of BAME participants sought help and support.

During this research process, we became familiar with analysing qualitative and quantitative data as well as using programs such as SPSS, for example conducting Mann Whitney U tests and doing thematic analyses. This research experience has helped us gain a better understanding of how to conduct research as well as developing the necessary skill sets needed for future research, for example completing a dissertation and future employment that involves data analysis, time management and teamwork.

*To view Ciera’s and Izzy’s research poster and presentation recording, please click on the thumbnails below: