ASET-HERDSA 2000 Main Page
[ Proceedings ] [ Abstracts ] [ ASET-HERDSA 2000 Main ]

The first cohort at a new campus: Who are they? What do they bring? Where are they going? Why did they come?

Calvin Smith
Geoff Isaacs
Alan Holzl
Debra Herbert

The Teaching and Development Institute, University of Queensland
Kathy Roulston
Graduate School of Education, University of Queensland
In this paper we report on the findings of a survey of first year students at the new UQ campus at Ipswich, west of Brisbane. We asked students about their reasons for enrolling in their respective degree programs, their reasons for studying at university, their information technology resources and literacy, their study and paid work commitments, domestic living arrangements and educational qualifications, their learning preferences and their intentions after completion of the degree. Ipswich campus is designed to be, and is promoted as, an innovative, learner-centred and technology-rich learning environment. We focussed on two themes; (1) the match between the pedagogical assumptions underpinning the curricula at the new campus and students' learning preferences, their information technology resources and literacy and their reasons for choosing their respective courses; and (2) respondents' reasons for choosing to do university studies, and their reasons for choosing the particular course in which they were enrolled.


Examining literature from the United States, Paulsen (Paulsen, 1990a, 1990b) classifies research concerning college choice behaviour according to the theoretical models employed by researchers. First, psychologists emphasise the psychological environment, or climate of an institution, its impact on students and 'student-institution fit'(Paulsen, 1990a, 1990b). Second, sociologists view college choice development in terms of a status attainment process. Third, economists view college attendance decisions as a form of investment-like decision making behaviour.

Using the first of these frameworks, Weiler (1994) found that the fit between a student's preferences and an institution's characteristics has the most substantial impact on the decision to apply. Students who live close to a university were found to be significantly more likely to apply in the event that they wished to live close to the school. Course entrance scores are also significant predictors of a student's predisposition to apply to college or university.

Another study which investigated the processes by which high school students choose a university or college (Galotti & Mark, 1994:603) found that students structure the decision in similar ways, considering an average of about eight to eleven criteria and four or five schools at any given time. However, students seek out, and are receptive to, different types of information at various points in the decision making process. Furthermore, higher-ability students appeared to structure the decision in more complex ways than lower achieving students.

St. John, Paulsen and Starkey (1996:175) argue that an artificial barrier has developed between theory and research on college-choice processes, and theory and research on student persistence choices. According to these authors, while the first line of inquiry is applied to marketing and recruitment practices, the latter is used to inform retention practices. Consistent with other research (Harker, Slade, & Ivory, 1999), these authors identify three stages in the process of college-choice; (1) aspiration formation - students develop the predisposition or intention to continue their education beyond the secondary level; (2) search and application -acquisition of information concerning college attributes and subsequent application; and (3) selection and attendance (St. John et al., 1996:178). The findings reported from this study suggest that the reasons why students chose colleges had both a direct and indirect influence on their persistence decisions and the financial reasons for choosing a college interacted with other aspects of the college experience. In addition, college costs had a substantial direct influence on persistence, in particular, living costs. Some high-achieving undergraduates dropped out, and evidence suggests that costs influenced this decision (St. John et al., 1996:210).

In their investigation of college access and choice among racial and ethnic groups, Hurtado, Inkelas, Briggs and Rhee (1997) found that there were vast differences in student preparation for college among various racial/ethnic groups. For example, student ability was the main predictor of being strategic about submitting college applications among Asian Americans. In contrast, parental income and education continue to play a direct role in the development of a 'choice set' for students from other racial backgrounds.

Choy and Ottinger (1998) found that the importance of reputation, location, price and influence of different universities varied across institution type. Students attending public and private not-for-profit 4-year institutions were more likely to cite reputation as the most important reason for choosing their institution. However, students at public 4-year institutions were more likely than students at private, not-for-profit 4-year institutions to identify location or price as the most important reason for their choice. Students at public 2-year institutions reported location as the most important reason for their choice of institution.

The Australian context

Why do students choose to attend university?

According to a recent study conducted in Australia (ANOP Research Service Pty. Ltd., 1994:26-27), most students choose to attend university for employment-related reasons (78%), with the main secondary reason for choosing to attend university to become generally better educated and qualified (25%). In addition, year 10-12 students who are more likely to have aspirations to attend university include:
  1. Those born in non-English speaking countries or whose parents have a non-English speaking background.
  2. Those with university educated parents.
  3. Those who are well informed about university.
  4. Those who would consider repeating Year 12 if they do not realise their plans.
  5. Private school students.
  6. Those with definite further education plans.
  7. Older students (in year 12 or aged 17 and over).
  8. Those living in capital cities.
  9. Female students.
  10. Those living in Victoria.
Somewhat similar findings were reported in an earlier study (Elsworth, Day, Hurworth, & Andrews, 1981) of the university choice decision making of final year school students in Victoria. Males, metropolitan dwellers, students from non-Catholic independent schools, science students and those from migrant and higher socioeconomic backgrounds were more likely to accept a place at university if offered. In addition, HSC score, anticipated financial costs, and perceptions of career benefits were factors all strongly associated with the decision outcome.

Le Claire (1988) identified seven stages through which high school students proceed in deciding to undertake tertiary education. While students in year 7-9 focus on the first three (which concern course and career preference), year 10-12 students refine their search for courses and universities by evaluating and eliminating potential alternative courses of study. A survey of 2000 final-year secondary students in Western Australia (Stanley & Reynolds, 1994) found that the majority had a strong preference for attending university rather than vocational training (TAFE). Consistent with Le Claire's (1988) ideas, university choice was primarily influenced by the course offered, with personal academic achievement, and quality considerations, and parent opinion also having the greatest influence. Quality of programs was also found to be a primary influence in university choice in a study investigating the factors which first-year students at the University of South Australia at Whyalla used in choosing a university (Martin, 1994a, 1994b). Distance from home and library resources were also found to be of primary importance.

A number of large studies examining different aspects of the transition into higher education have been conducted in Australia. One such study is Entering higher education in the 1980s (Williams, Long, Carpenter, & Hayden, 1993:iii). This study focused on the transition of Australian students from Year 12 to tertiary study, and found that the end-on transition rates of Year 12 graduates changed little across the decade. The opening up of the higher education during the 1980s did not have much of an effect on the participation rates of high achieving students. In fact, higher education appeared to be unattractive to a significant proportion of the group most suited to it in terms of talent. The study also found that a greater proportion of males enter higher education, and higher status families promote higher levels of achievement. In addition, year 12 graduates from the most wealthy 25% of families entered higher education at rates some 20 percentage points above those of students from 'poor' families. Children of immigrants tend to participate at higher rates than do those of the Australian-born majority, but living in a rural area is a disadvantage for high school graduates in terms of going on to higher education. There was also a substantial disparity in higher education transition rates across the three school sectors. Access to higher education seemed to depend mainly on personal achievement and personal preference, although only one in every two of the highest achieving students appear to choose to enter higher education.

Many of these findings are echoed in a 1994 study investigating young people's attitudes to post-compulsory education and training (ANOP Research Service Pty. Ltd., 1994:18-19). This study found that there was a strong commitment among young people to complete year 12 and continue their education and training on completion of high school. Also, although the majority of students have 'unrealistically high' aspirations - most aspire to higher education and professional occupations - there has been increased interest in TAFE as an alternative to higher education.

University applications in Australia

Analysis of data from a large-scale study which investigated individual demand for tertiary education courses in Australia (Harvey-Beavis & Elsworth, 1998) revealed that applications in the higher education sector were clustered into the following areas.
  1. Visual arts and music courses.
  2. Humanities and social science and communication arts (media, performing arts, etc) courses.
  3. Applied social science, child care and teaching, health studies, community service and sport and recreation courses;
  4. Business, commerce, law, hospitality, business languages and library and information studies courses; and
  5. Building and design, engineering and computing and professional and applied science courses.
Results from this study showed that demand for tertiary education courses appears to be driven by interests. Evidence was not found to support the theory that 'pursuit of status' or the use of a 'cost benefit' strategy were important factors governing student choice. Moreover, clusters of courses may be viewed as 'fields of study' which are likely to be 'stable over time', and the clustering of courses identified by the study reflects the similarities students observe in courses.

How and why do students choose a particular university?

A recent report (James, Baldwin, & McInnis, 1999) investigating how and why students choose a particular university notes two issues of particular pertinence in the Australian setting. First, the majority of prospective university students seem to be motivated principally by field of study interests when they make their initial tertiary applications. Second, people's decisions are mediated and constrained by competitive entry to courses based on academic results.

Overall findings from the study conducted by James et al. (1999) include the following:

  1. Field of study preferences are clearly the dominant factor in prospective students' decision making, and applicants' field of study preferences are associated with striking differences in the factors they consider important in their choice of a course and university;

  2. Applicants focus strongly on broadly conceived course and institutional reputations when making their selections, and course entry scores (and by implication, university scores), serve as a proxy for quality in prospective students' eyes;

  3. With the exception of ease of access from home, institutional characteristics beyond the specific qualities of particular courses are not strong influences, and applicants report generally low levels of knowledge of specific characteristics of courses and universities.

  4. Short-term practical issues - that is, opportunities for flexible study options, the use of information technology, the availability of rental housing near the campus, and ease of access from home - appear to be of more importance than 'long-term status and prestige' for applicants from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
In relation to the past point, the authors note that 'the focus on immediate needs versus the value of the university experience itself may be a fundamental contrast between those who have cultural capital and those who do not' (James et al., 1999:43). However, it is also suggested that many factors, which are prominent in university advertising, that might be expected to be influential, do not figure highly in applicant thinking. These include the opportunities for flexible study, the use of information technology in teaching, and the quality of teaching overall.

Why do students choose to come to new campuses and universities?

Little research has investigated the reasons why students choose to attend a new university campus. Harker, Slade and Ivory (1999) specifically addressed the issue of differences between how mature age entrants and school leavers undertook the decision to attend a new university ( in this case, the University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia. These researchers found that school leavers were more likely to select a university close to home than mature age students. Mature age students tended to select a university as their one and only choice, whereas school leavers were more likely to submit a number of preferences. For mature age students, the most important reasons for choosing a new university were related to established life patterns ( that is that it enabled them to continue live at home (27%), to continue family responsibilities (25%), and to continue to work (14%). Being able to continue to live at home (41%) overwhelmingly swayed school leavers, with the ability to start the course there and transfer elsewhere if necessary (20%) as a secondary reason (Harker et al., 1999).


While a substantial amount of research has been undertaken in the area of university and college choice, there is relatively little research focussing on the reasons for students' choice of a new university campus. As such, it would appear that research addressing this topic would be beneficial in gaining further understanding of student's university study decision-making.

The new Ipswich Campus

When the new Ipswich campus of the University of Queensland first opened its doors in February 1999, it was advertised as, "a state-of-the-art centre offering innovative courses and course delivery methods using the very latest technology". Later on, billboards appeared around Ipswich, announcing the campus would provide, "New Courses for the New Millennium". The message which was being sent to prospective students was that the courses at this campus were designed to meet their future employment needs. Part of this message was that future-oriented information technologies would play a central role in students' learning. Another message conveyed via newspaper advertisements and other promotional material was that courses at this campus would be designed around the needs of the students by giving them, "choices in how and when they study, pacing their studies to suit their lifestyles without compromising a world-class education" in particular to make it more attractive to mature-age students. Planning documents within the university expressed the hope that a significant number of would be drawn from, "the western corridor connecting Brisbane and Ipswich, Ipswich itself, and its rural surrounds".

The same planning documents portrayed the Ipswich Campus as, "an engine for change and innovation within the University...[acting] a test bed for new ideas and processes within teaching and learning, university administration, and community partnerships". The Ipswich Campus is one of a number of new campuses being built in Australia designed to foster innovation in higher educational methods and which conform to a government-endorsed vision of how higher education should be organised in the future (West, 1998). The findings of this study therefore may have implications beyond the boundaries of the University of Queensland.

Programs at the Ipswich campus

The degree streams available at the Ipswich campus may be divided into two categories: new courses (including those "new courses for the new millenium") which are designed to prepare students for the jobs of the future; and traditional courses. The degree streams are:

New Courses:BCSBachelor of Contemporary Studies
BeComBachelor of Electronic Commerce
BInfEnvBachelor of Information Environments
BBusCommBachelor of Business Communications

Traditional Courses:BBusBachelor of Business
BEdBachelor of Education (Graduate Entry)
BSocSciBachelor of Social Science

Evaluation at the Ipswich Campus

If the Ipswich Campus is to be an effective test-bed for future Australian universities, then its operation, especially its operation during the period while it is establishing its place in higher education, needs to be subjected to a comprehensive evaluation. This paper describes the results of a survey of first-year students which is part of a suite of evaluation projects being conducted at the Ipswich campus. These projects range from a general data gathering exercise, on which this paper is based, to a number of more focused projects which examine various aspects of the operation of the flexible learning model employed at the new campus.


The data reported here were collected by means of a survey questionnaire and analysis of student records (student records and survey responses could not be linked). The questionnaire was posted out to all of the 359 students identified from the student records enrolled at the Ipswich campus as at 31 March 1999. One hundred and forty-eight completed questionnaires were returned, a response rate of 41%.

The survey questionnaire was designed to collect general information such as age, gender, degree stream, highest educational qualification, present employment, present living situation, languages spoken besides English and current fees paid (HECs or Full fee). Other questions related to learning preferences, learning locations and the hours spent studying in different locations as well as a number of questions to determine their access to, and experience in the use of, computers and the internet.

The key questions that we focus on in this paper relate to a variety of factors that would be likely to have an impact on students' opportunities for successfully completing their studies. In particular we focus on the following factors:


Who are the students at the Ipswich Campus?

The student records were used initially to produce a list of students for the original mail-out and a check list to mark off the returned questionnaires so a follow-up reminder could be sent to those students who had not responded by a certain date. Data from these records (the official semester 1 records, as sent to DETYA) were used to compile a profile of the total student body including students' residential locations. They were also used to determine the representativeness of the group that responded to the survey. The survey data were used to described students intentions and their experience and facility with computers.

Degree stream

The respondent group and the total population were compared with respect to degree chosen, age and gender. A breakdown of the responses by degree stream, compared with actual enrolments, is shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Comparison of Response by Degree Stream (respondents versus population)

Respondents %
Respondents No (N=146)
Ipswich Population %
Population No (N=359)
* There was some confusion among BEd students as to whether they were enrolled at the Ipswich or the St Lucia campus (in 1999 many of the classes for the Ipswich BEd were conducted at St Lucia). This may explain the relatively low response rate for this group.


A breakdown of the responses by gender, compared with actual enrolments, shows that the respondent group and the total population are similar (Table 2). Table 2 also shows that the proportions of each gender category at UQ Ipswich do not differ markedly from those of students attending and commencing at universities nationally (DETYA, 2000:15).

Table 2: Enrolments by Gender (respondents versus population)

Australian Pop'n* (1999)4555
Australian Pop'n Commencing* (1999)4456
Total UQ Pop'n % (N=359)4159
Respondents % (N=146)3565
* (Source DETYA, 2000:15).


A breakdown of the responses by age, compared with actual enrolments, is shown in Table 3. These data in the above tables showed a good fit between the respondents and the total population.

Table 3: Comparison of total population and respondent group in terms of age.

Age ranges
(in years)
Group % (N=148)
Total Ipswich
Population % (N=359)
18 or less3532
Over 5011

The data in Table 4 show that for all age categories other than the 18 or younger group there is a good fit between sample respondents and the total population

Table 4: Comparison of total population and respondent group in terms of age.

Age ranges used by authorsRespondent group % (N=148)DETYA age rangesTotal Australian student population % (N=686267)
18 or less3518 or less16
22-2515 22-2518
Over 50150 and over*3
* These categories differ slightly from those used in this report.
(Source DETYA, 2000:54)

Among survey respondents, whether students were enrolled in their first choice degree varied widely according to age. Respondents in the under 19 age group were likely to be enrolled in a degree that was not their first choice; in contrast, the respondents aged 19 and over were, on average, likely to be enrolled in a course that was their first choice (Table 5).

Table 5: First Choice by Age

Age GroupWhether got first choice
% Yes% No
<19 (N=52)3169
19 or over (N=96)7921

These results are not inconsistent with the findings of Harker, Slade and Ivory (1999) However, neither are they directly supportive of those findings, since we did not ask our respondents whether they had made more than one choice in applying for admission. Our older respondents were enrolled in their first choice degree, but whether this degree was the only choice on their applications is not known.

Table 6: Importance of Location By Age

Age Groups
(Total N=146)
Not at all important /
Not important
Important /
Very Important
<22 (N=84)4456
22-30 (N=35)3763
>30 (N=27)1981

Table 6 shows that the importance of the location of the campus increases with the age of the respondents, but that it is important for just over half of the respondents under 22 years of age.

What do the students bring?

We wanted to look at a variety of resources and constraints students brought with them that might support or hinder their study activities. The things we considered included; IT Resources (their access to a home computer); IT Literacy (their expertise in various software applications); their study and work patterns and commitments; their living situations; their educational qualifications; and, their learning preferences. We will examine the data on each of these in turn.

IT Resources -Access to a home computer

Of the 148 respondents, 130 said they did have a computer at home (88%). Of this 130, 115 answered the question on the age of their computer (see Table 7).

Table 7: Age of computer (column percentages)

Age of computer in whole years% of the respondents with a computer at home who answered this question (N=115)
< 19
1 to < 231
2 to < 324
3 and over36

A substantial proportion of these computers are aged at least three years. Given the current rate of change in technology, these machines might be considered "old" because they will have been superseded by several generations of new models.

Given the age of the computers it is of some interest to find out how well they are equipped (see Table 8).

Table 8: Ancillary equipment with students' computers (Row percentages)

Ancillary Equipment or Capacity% of respondents' computers having this feature or capacity (N=130)
Access to internet84

Students with computers may not all enjoy an up-to-date or fast machine, but by and large their machines are equipped with the peripherals needed for computer-based learning from home.

Of the 17 students who said they did not have a computer at home, 15 said they were prepared to do most of their computing work at the Ipswich campus.

IT Literacy -Expertise in various software applications

Given the assumption underlying the advent of the new Ipswich campus (that substantial use be made of contemporary information technologies in students' learning activities), it is important to ascertain what levels of expertise in computer use the students bring to their studies. We asked respondents to indicate their level of confidence in using a variety of common software applications (see Table 9).

Table 9: Levels of confidence in various software applications (row percentages)

Very confidentLess than very confidentNever used
Word processing73261
Web Browser66321
Chat programs304919
Presentation graphics215322

When software applications are looked at in terms of students' user confidence, they fall clearly into two groups: those in the use of which students are very confident and those in the use of which they are less than very confident. By and large, students are very confident in word processing, emailing and web browsing applications. A substantial majority of students are less than very confident in the use of the other applications listed, although most have at least used them. Thus, this is a group of students who appear to be quite familiar with computers, albeit very confident in the use of only a limited range of software applications.

Interestingly, 65% of these students claimed to have used the internet before coming to university; the median number of hours per week of internet use was 4 hours. The uses to which students put their internet access include; (1) use for work or business, (2) email or IRC etc or contact (family, friends), (3) study, (4) research, (5) look for jobs, (6) learn web-type things, (7) play games, (8) surfing, and (9) entertainment. It is striking that most of these uses were not entertainment oriented or frivolous.

Study and work patterns and commitments

The median amount of time respondents expected to be spending each week at the campus was 12.5 hours (range 0-80 hours). Ninety-five percent expect to spend fewer than 30 hours per week studying at the campus. The median amount of time respondents expected to spend in study outside scheduled class sessions was 15 hours.

We asked about the kind of work respondents were doing (Table 10) and the number of hours they were spending in paid work.

Table 10: Respondents' work patterns (column percentages)

Class of paid work% of respondents in paid work

The median number of hours of paid work, on average per week, reported by these respondents is 17 hours. Seventy-five percent of the respondents report working, on average, 23 hours or less per week. The median amount of time spent on campus by those in paid work (N=91) is 12 hours and by those with no paid work (N=52) is 13 hours. Paid work therefore appears to be an additional burden to study commitments rather than a substitute for them.

As would be expected, there is a negative correlation between hours of paid work and amount of time intended to be spent at the campus (r = -.43, p < .01).

We added together the variables for time spent at the campus and hours in paid work. We called the new variable "total committed hours per week". For students doing some paid work, we found that the median for this variable was 33 hours.

Living situation

As shown in Table 11 below, half the respondents live with their parents, a quarter with their own families and a sixth in shared housing. This is consistent with the age distribution data reported in Table 3 above

Table 11: Respondents' Living Situation

Living situation% of respondents in this situation
With parents51
With own family23
No answer or other7

Highest educational qualifications

Table 12 below shows respondents' highest educational qualification at the time of their enrolment at the Ipswich campus. Again, consistent with the age distribution in Table 3, whilst the majority of the respondents have an end of high school certificate, a substantial minority come with higher qualifications than high school certificates or their equivalents.

Table 12: Respondents' highest educational qualification at entry

Qualification% of respondents (N=148)
Schooling - no certificate3
End of high school certificate62
TAFE diploma or certificate14
Bachelor degree (with or without honours)14
Higher degree4

Learning preferences

We were interested in discovering respondents' preferences for, and beliefs about, the efficacy of different learning methods, contexts, or environments. We classified learning contexts into three classes (formal "taught" classes; small working groups; using computers) and asked respondents to tell us how well they felt they learned in each kind of learning context. As can be seen in Table 12, respondents generally feel they learn well from each of these three methods.

Table 13: How well do you feel you learn from each of the following methods? (row percentages)

Method% Not well% Well
Formal "taught" classes2078
Small working groups1583
Using Computers1978

We also wanted to know how respondents might rank different learning contexts, in terms of their relative effectiveness for their learning. Respondents were asked in which way they felt they learned best. As a group these respondents believe that their best learning is achieved by studying in an informal group.

Table 14: In what way do you feel you learn best? (column percentages)

Studying alone28%
Studying with in an informal group44%
Working in formal classes22%

Where are they going? Intentions after completing degree

We asked respondents to indicate their intentions after completing their degrees. In analysing the responses to this question, six broad themes emerged: Most of those who specified a future field of work came from the BEd (Graduate Entry), and many students indicated more than one of these categories in their responses. Although many students knew clearly what they would do after graduating, it appears that there was a substantial subgroup who were uncertain or undecided. This group could be subdivided into two sub-groups: those who planned to work but who had no specific work direction in mind and those who were even less certain about their future plans.

Why did they come?

In one submission in the West Report (1998) it was stated that "It is important that each institution develop its own distinctive mission and publicise it so that student demands can be appropriately matched to institutional profiles" (West, 1998:49). This is exactly what has been done in the case of the Ipswich Campus. Did the students who chose the Ipswich campus do so because of perceptions of some special characteristics of the campus (e.g. the use of technology based flexible learning and the availability of new courses which would prepare them for the jobs of the future) that were advertised in the promotional literature? In this section we explore the reasons respondents gave for choosing their courses at Ipswich. In the survey students were asked "How important was each of the following factors in your decision to undertake university studies?" The response categories supplied for this question were: Most students, male and female, indicated that all three categories offered (interest in a particular area, employment and qualifications) were important or very important. Indeed, volunteered responses in the category "Other" mostly either repeated or expanded on the three supplied, however some addressed the intrinsic pleasure or intellectual benefits of learning (e.g. "interested in what I am studying, wanted to know more about it" "[to] meet new people"; "expanding my mind"; "It was important to me to have something meaningful to work on"). These responses bring to the foreground the distinction between extrinsic or pragmatic reasons for studying at university (employment and qualifications) and intrinsic reasons (interest in an area, pleasure or the intellectual benefits of learning).

One cannot assume, however, that individual students bring to their decision to do a university degree only one motivational factor. This becomes more obvious when we analyse repondents' reasons for selecting the specific course in which they were enrolled. A free-response question (no response categories were supplied) in which students wrote in their reasons for choosing their respective courses was used to explore this issue. Analysis of responses to the course selection question revealed ten themes; individual students' responses often included more than one theme. Details of the themes, with examples, are given below:



Hobson's choice


Features of the learning environment, campus, or its courses


Overall, by far the most commonly occurring theme was preparation for future employment, which is commensurable with the ANOP (1994:26-27) finding that most students cite employment related reasons for attending university. James, Baldwin and McInnis (1999) found that applicants' field of study preferences are associated with striking differences in the factors they consider important in their choice of a course and university. Whilst our data are insufficient to make any definitive statements in this regard, there is an indication that students studying the Bachelor of Contemporary Studies regard interest in the field as a more important determinant of choice that either employment or gaining a degree. Not surprisingly students in the Graduate Entry Bachelor of Education did not rate getting a degree highly and tended to rate employment above both this and interest.

However, to make any further statements about incidence would be to go beyond the limitations of the data collected. The question asked was Why did you choose the course you are enrolled in? This is an open question to which students respond freely. Rarely will a student volunteer all of the reasons they might have had for course selection (however, we hope they volunteer the most salient ones). If a student does not volunteer a reason this does not necessarily mean that it was not applicable to that student. This type of question is extremely useful for identifying themes (in this case, kinds of reasons), but is of limited use in identifying their frequency of applicability or salience to respondents. This will be done in a later study using a question with supplied response categories.

Discussion and conclusions

When one looks at the ages of the respondent group one can see that about one-half of the students are aged 21 years or less, a quarter are 22-30 years old and the rest are older than 30 years. Many of the results we have reported are consistent with this pattern. Thus the majority of students are living with their parents; the majority have an end of high school certificate as their highest qualification; many are uncertain as to their future after completing their degree and, whilst a majority are in some paid employment it is not for a large number of hours per week. However, the substantial minority of students who are older cannot be ignored by those designing courses at the new campus; both the age and educational qualification distributions suggest that these students bring to their studies knowledge, life experience and qualifications. Teaching staff ought to take account of these students' experiences in the design of subjects and courses. At least two-thirds of respondents have experience of the world of paid work.

The respondents report learning well in a wide range of learning situations, however, they feel they learn best in an informal group rather than alone or in formal classes; this also may have implications for the design of the learning experiences to which students are exposed.

An underlying assumption of most recently created university campuses, including Ipswich, is that modern information technology will play a major role in teaching and learning. We have seen that the respondents in this study by and large have access to computers (albeit, older models in some cases) and some facility in the use of essential software programs. Thus educational designers may assume that the majority of students are confident in the use of word processing, email and web browsing programs, however they may not assume students' facility in the use of other kinds of software.

As we have seen, there are more female students than males (but in fairly similar proportion to those elsewhere in Australia), the students are fairly young (the large majority aged less than 26 years), but somewhat more likely not to be school leavers than elsewhere in Australia. The difference in proportion of school leavers becomes more comprehensible when it is seen that the largest single course enrolment at Ipswich is in the Bachelor of Education degree. This is a graduate entry degree aimed at graduates who wish to teach. It is the only degree at Ipswich in which more than half of those enrolling are aged over 25 years. In contrast, the Bachelor of Business, another degree that has obvious attractions for those seeking a career transition, has a little over three-fifths of its new enrolments in the 19 to 25 years age group. About one third of the students came from the Ipswich community. Almost all of the remainder came from nearby Brisbane. This outcome is quite consistent with the goal expressed in some of the planning documents, that significant numbers of students be drawn from the Ipswich area and the western areas of Brisbane. It is also consistent with the Australian research findings of Harker, Slade and Ivory (1999) and James, Baldwin and McInnis (1999) that location of the university in relation to home was an important factor in university choice for many potential students.

In this study we explored course choice in two questions. One of these was about the decision to attend university and the other was about the reasons for selecting the specific course of study in which the student was engaged. The implicit model here is that students first choose to attend university and then choose to study a specific course. However, our fixed response question on why students choose to attend university allowed for the possibility that this model is not correct. Almost all students indicated that all three reasons supplied (interest in a particular area; gaining a qualification for employment; having a university degree) were important in their decision to undertake university studies. The first of these reasons amounts, in many cases, to wanting to study a specific course or in a specific area. Students' positive endorsement of this reason undermines to some extent the model that students first elect to go to university and then select a course, and lends support to the results of James, Baldwin and McInnis (1999) that field of study preferences are dominant in students' selection processes.

What reasons, then, did students give for selecting their specific course of study? We found that the reasons fell into a number of easily distinguishable groups. These were:

It is in the nature of the question asked (a "free response" question) that we can make no strong statements about the frequency with which these reasons were applicable. Thus it will be important in future studies to structure "fixed" response questions around these clusters of reasons. We intend to do this in a further study in second semester 2000. It is nonetheless noteworthy that, in addition to the reasons one might expect at any campus (extrinsic reasons related to employment and location; intrinsic reasons related to pleasure and interest), there are reasons to do with the innovative nature of the learning environment and with UQ Ipswich's (marketing) focus on preparation for jobs of the future. This finding is in contrast to James et al (1999) who found in their national study that these latter reasons were minor determinants of course choice. Our locally focussed study indicates that, on a more local level, these reasons may be important.

We intend to carry out a further study during the second year of operation of the Ipswich campus, with a larger population of students (around 450) and a questionnaire modified in the light of the findings reported here. We are particularly interested in seeing how important are the various reasons for course selection that we have identified here. We are also well aware that the survey and other results reported here pertain to the first year of operation of a new campus. Such a study is interesting in its own right. Further research will shed light on its applicability to later years of operation.


Dian Benson and Mike Shelly provided valuable assistance with the data on which this paper is based. Ms Benson and Mr Shelly carried out basic statistical analyses of the pre-coded data, while Mr Shelly did the preliminary content analysis of the uncoded data.


ANOP Research Service Pty. Ltd. (1994). Young people's attitudes to post-compulsory education and training: Detailed report of ANOP 1994 Follow-Up Study. Canberra: Department of Employment Education Training and Youth Affairs.

Choy, S. P., & Ottinger, C. (1998). Choosing a Postsecondary Institution: Statistical Analysis Report, Postsecondary Education Descriptive Analysis Reports. MPR Associates, Berkeley, CA: (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 424830).

DETYA (2000). Students 1999: Selected Higher Education Statistics. Canberra: AGPS.

Elsworth, G., Day, N., Hurworth, R., & Andrews, J. (1981). From school to tertiary study: transition to college and university in Victoria. Hawthorn, VIC: Australian Council for Educational Research.

Galotti, K. M., & Mark, M. C. (1994). How do high school students structure an important life decision? A short-term longitudinal study of the college decision-making process. Research in Higher Education, 35(5), 589-607.

Harker, D., Slade, P., & Ivory, P. (1999). The University Decision: Influencing school leaver and mature entrants to choose a new institution. Paper presented at the Teaching and Learning Conference, Tertiary Teaching: Doing it differently - Doing it better, Darwin, NTU.

Harvey-Beavis, A., & Elsworth, G. R. (1998). Individual demand for tertiary education: Interests and fields of study. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

Hurtado, S., Inkelas, K. K., Briggs, C., & Rhee, B. S. (1997). Differences in college access and choice among racial/ethnic groups: Identifying continuing barriers. Research in Higher Education, 38(1), 43-75.

James, R., Baldwin, G., & McInnis, C. (1999). Which University? The factors influencing the choices of prospective undergraduates. Canberra: AGPS.

Le Claire, K. A. (1988). University choice behaviour: A preliminary analysis. Education Research and Perspectives, 15(2), 83-96.

Martin, C. (1994a, 20-22 April 1994). Location and choice: which university? Paper presented at the National Conference on Building a Better Future for Regional Australia, Whyalla, South Australia.

Martin, C. (1994b). The role of libraries in the general marketing strategies undertaken by universities: A case study of University of South Australia, Whyalla Campus. Australian Academic and Research Libraries, 25(3), 193-197.

Paulsen, M. B. (1990a). College Choice: Understanding Student Enrolment Behavior. ASHE ERIC Higher Education Report No. 6. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 333855).

Paulsen, M. B. (1990b). College Choice: Understanding Student Enrolment Behavior. ERIC Digest: Association for the Study of Higher Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 333855).

St. John, E., Paulsen, M. B., & Starkey, J. B. (1996). The nexus between college choice and persistence. Research in Higher Education, 37(2), 175-220.

Stanley, G., & Reynolds, P. (1994). The relationship between students' levels of school achievement, their preferences for future enrolment and their images of universities. Higher Education, 27, 85-93.

Weiler, W. C. (1994). Transition from consideration of a college to the decision to apply. Research in Higher Education, 35(6), 631-646.

West, R. (1998). Learning for Life: Final Report of the West Higher Education Review Committee. Canberra: DEETYA.

Williams, T., Long, M., Carpenter, P., & Hayden, M. (1993). Entering higher education in the 1980s. Canberra: AGPS.

Contact details: Dr Calvin Smith, University of Queensland
Phone (07) 3365 3065 Fax (07) 3365 1966 Email

Please cite as: Smith, C., Isaacs, G., Holzl, A., Herbert, D. and Roulston, K. (2001). The first cohort at a new campus: Who are they? What do they bring? Where are they going? Why did they come? In L. Richardson and J. Lidstone (Eds), Flexible Learning for a Flexible Society, 643-661. Proceedings of ASET-HERDSA 2000 Conference, Toowoomba, Qld, 2-5 July 2000. ASET and HERDSA.

[ Pre-conference abstract ] [ Proceedings ] [ Abstracts ] [ Program ] [ ASET-HERDSA 2000 Main ]
Created 23 Oct 2001. Last revised: 1 Apr 2003. HTML: Roger Atkinson
This URL:
Previous URL 23 Oct 2001 to 30 Sep 2002: