First in Family – What Support is Available?


In today’s society, attending university is increasingly the norm. So why is being First in Family (FiF) still impacting student’s attainment, graduate outcomes and overall experience while studying for their degrees? This blog will consider the factors affecting students who are the first in their family to attend university and explore how educational professionals can provide support to maximise their potential.

What challenges do First in Family students face?

On average, a graduate earns more throughout their lives than those without a degree (Statista, 2022). It is therefore likely that the parents and carers of FiF learners will have less financial ability to support their students with living costs. These students may be more likely to have a part time job while studying for Further and Higher Education. The impact of this can often be observed through the student’s attainment and overall experience while at university. The current economic climate means that students are working upwards of 13 hours per week to make ends meet (The Independent, 2023). While this information may overwhelm some learners, particularly FiF, it is important that educators are aware of the support available so that they can help learners make informed decisions about their futures.

Timetabling changes to universities can help accommodate work and make university more accessible for FiF university students. Institutions such as De Montfort University and Sunderland University have recently introduced a compact three day timetable, giving their students more flexibility around their studies for part-time work (The Guardian, 2023). The impact of this can mean increased financial independence and attendance, meaning increased satisfaction while studying. Unfortunately, compact timetables are the exception and not the rule and first in family students that are working to financially support their studies largely have to juggle five day timetables with part-time work. However, with 47% of students now working alongside their studies, we are likely to see an increase in the sector which supports these learners going forward.

University culture can be more daunting for students who are the first in their family to attend university, which can impact FiF learners socially. Students who have family who attended university, are likely to have had childhoods filled with anecdotes which moulded their expectations of university life. For students who are the first in family to attend university, this is not the case. Sadly, this can lead to higher dropout rates among this group (UCL, 2021) which emphasises the all-important need for supporting these learners.

Research from University College London shows that FiF learners are more likely to embark on courses such as Law, Economics and Management. The attraction to these courses is mainly incentivised by being career driven, therefore it is important that these learners have access to information about the outcomes of these courses. Sometimes apprenticeships are less known about but can offer comparable outcomes with increased financial independence while studying. For some learners, part-time study may be more accessible than for others, living at home while commuting to university offers parents and carers the ability to support their learners without as much of the financial commitment. This experience can be overwhelming for parents/carers and learners alike – from knowing how Student Finance England calculates a maintenance loan to what ‘student kitchen essentials’ are really needed.

So how can educators help?

Tips to support your learners

  • School and college will be the main source of information for FiF learners, so handle conversations about finances both empathetically and factually.
  • It is great practice to encourage learners to draw up a pros and cons spreadsheet. This can make learners more aware of the course options and financial viability of their decisions.
  • Encourage learners to look beyond the league tables and ask themselves key, personal questions. For instance, how much is the train fare home and how often will they need to make that journey?
  • Summer schools, UCAS fairs and meeting school alumni that have had similar experiences can help to myth-bust the university experience.
  • Parents/carers may also need support as this will be new to them. The DANCOP Parent and Carer Guide to HE is an excellent resource to support any curious parents.
  • Encourage parents/carers to attend open days with their learners if they can. This can play a key role in ensuring that the learner has adequate support.

Next Steps

Being the first person in a learner’s family to attend university is exciting but can also be overwhelming due to the large amount of information available. There is support for learners and there are easy exercises which can be practised in school to help them with their decision. If your school is in Nottinghamshire or Derbyshire, reach out to us today to see what support is available for your learners! Find out more…

Blog content written by Abie Whitehead