Bridging to new possibilities: a case study of the influence of a bridging education programme
In the rapidly changing ‘knowledge economy’ where ‘innovation’ and ‘responsiveness’ are vital, tertiary education can be at a point transformation. Since the late 1990s the New Zealand government began to shift part of its tertiary education policy with an increasing focus on what is commonly called ‘foundation’ education. The shift was aimed at ensuring all New Zealanders are equipped for the knowledge economy and raising the skills of individuals. A variety of research and education programmes were launched, and existing foundation or bridging programmes strengthened through policy, research and educational endeavours. Bridging education programmes (a subset of foundation education) are designed to prepare non-traditional and under-prepared students for ongoing study at a higher level. This current research sought to identify the influence of a university bridging programme (Level 4) on students who progressed into further study at undergraduate level. The bridging programme commenced in 2003 providing a pathway for students into undergraduate health degrees. The key question for this thesis was: how does bridging education influence students? To determine the influence of the bridging programme, this research was based on a case-study of seven students who completed four or eight papers in the bridging programme. Participants were in ongoing study (for at least one year) in a Bachelor of Health Science (any major). The methodology was qualitative in design, drawing extensively on a case-study approach to research the influences of the bridging programme. The method of data collection utilised was individual semi-structured interviews with former bridging students to ascertain their perceptions, views and experiences of the influence of a bridging programme, both historically and currently. In examining this unique context, information on the influences of bridging education was explored and the importance of bridging education, from the participant’s perspective, understood more clearly. This thesis and the research within revealed that the influence of the bridging programme began at the participant’s time of enrolment and continued into their undergraduate study and their lives. The bridging programme influenced the way participant’s interacted with a range of factors including: the institution; their undergraduate programme; with educators and peers; and with family, friends and others in society. Equally, it is acknowledged that these factors influenced the participant’s, facilitating or impeding their ongoing learning. The participants also identified several challenges (financial and relational) related to the influence of tertiary study which they faced. The research revealed the programme influenced their ongoing success and continuation in undergraduate study. The programme provided an effective bridge into tertiary education (academically, emotionally and socially). Participant’s acknowledged the influence on their cognitive and meta-cognitive growth and development. The range of tertiary leaning skills and knowledge gained and/or enhanced was considerable. Close links between the academic skills taught in the bridging programme and required in undergraduate study were evident. Positive improvements in confidence, self-efficacy and motivation were also attributed to the influence of the programme. Holistic personal development occurred as the skills and knowledge gained and developed were transferred and extended from academia into other areas of the lives of former bridging students and thus further influenced their family, personal friends and society. The influence of the bridging programme has enabled new opportunities, ways of being and employment to become more than a dream, but a reality which the participants continue to move towards. Overall, it could be claimed that the influence of the bridging programme was holistic. A series of recommendations are provided for theory, policy and practice. The significance for social issues and action are discussed and avenues for further research outlined.