Higher education learner identity for successful student transitions

Karen MacFarlane*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
671 Downloads (Pure)


Student success in higher education (HE) is dependent on the possession of a positive learner identity, the development of which is a complex longitudinal process of change. Exploring the growth of learner identity within the transition between school and university is therefore apposite, especially for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not have sufficient cultural capital to make an easy intellectual transition from school pupil to university student. Learner identity is positively linked with both the academic and social context of learning as well as with concepts of engagement and a sense of belonging in HE. This article explores the findings of a Scottish study involving 30 students who took part in a unique widening participation model based on immersing learners in the university environment whilst still at school. Findings include evidence of the development of a transformative HE learner identity which is enabled by an immersive experience of university prior to entry. A model for HE learning identity formation is suggested. In the context of the current dialogue on fair access and widening participation to HE internationally, findings point policy makers to the benefits of long-term immersion in HE prior to entry for successful transition to university.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1201-1215
Number of pages15
JournalHigher Education Research and Development
Issue number6
Early online date4 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018


  • widening participation
  • learner identity
  • engagement
  • belonging
  • transition


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