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.
- Widening participation, learner identity, engagement, belonging, transition.