First-Generation Migrant Family Students in Higher Education on Their Educational Journey in Finland

Golaleh Makrooni

Tutkimustuotos: VäitöskirjaCollection of Articles


Worldwide, the number of refugees—and thus migrants—has been increasing for many years. The causes for this increase are poverty, corruption, political oppression, war, and the desire among migrants for a better life for themselves, their families, and their children. Wars and conflicts in many developing countries, and as now currently in Ukraine, create great suffering and force people to flee. As always, many families and children are among the refugees and immigrants looking for a new home. Many resulting problems, such as finding housing and jobs for migrants, confront states as well as their educational institutions and the educational system at large. Many studies (Malinen et al., 2012; OECD, 2010) have revealed significant differences in achievement between native and immigrant students. Moreover, given the increase in migration around the world and specifically in western countries, more educational studies are needed on how to better promote equity in higher education for students from migrant families.

The aim of this study is to focus on a specific group of students in higher education: first-generation migrant family students (FGMFSs). FGMFSs are university students from immigrant families whose parents do not have a higher education degree. Despite the large number of studies on first-generation students, the current study is one of the first to examine the experiences and perceptions of successful FGMFSs on their educational journey, during the transition to and within higher education. This dissertation explores the factors and strategies that support and encourage FGMFSs on their educational journey and help them overcome associated barriers and obstacles in a cross-cultural context. Thus, the goal of the study on which this dissertation is based is to identify specific patterns, actions, and conditions that are central to FGMFSs’ successful educational pathways on the way, to, and in higher education. By examining these students’ perceptions and experiences, a theory based on the key factors that lead to successfully accessing, attending, and continuing in higher education emerged. These factors include their experiences and perceptions as students from their arrival in Finland to their enrollment and studying at university, including their feelings, beliefs, challenges, obstacles, potentials, and successes.

The grounded theory (GT) approach was used for this qualitative study (Corbin & Strauss, 2015; Glaser & Strauss, 1967). As a data-driven approach, GT was chosen for this study to ensure the greatest possible openness to the target group. Following the GT approach, 15 FGMFSs at Finnish universities (mostly from Tampere University) were interviewed and analyzed simultaneously. The analysis followed Corbin and Straus (2015) and included open coding, axial coding, and selective coding. Throughout the process, the concept of constant comparison and memo writing were applied.

This article-based dissertation consists of three publications. Each article focuses on one part of the entire study. The first part of the study, described in Article I, focused on the experiences and perceptions of FGMFSs on their educational path to higher education. Three categories were identified that supported FGMFSs on their path to attending college: family values, institutional values, and interpersonal relationships. The core category linking these categories was identified as openness. The second part of the study, described in Article II, focused on the intercultural experiences and perceptions of FGMFSs on their educational journey. Three categories—individualism and collectivism, gender roles, and critical thinking— were identified as having a strong impact on how the cross-cultural identity of these students and, consequently, their educational path from school to university was shaped. The central category linking these categories was described as empowerment. The third part of the study, as described in Article III, examined the experiences and perceptions of FGMFSs in higher education that successfully supported their studies there. The associated categories were identified as academic environment, academic performance, and academic well-being, which were linked by the core categories of functioning and sense of belonging.

Using a systematic GT approach to the study of FGMFSs’ experiences and perceptions of educational pathways, the GT of “negotiation and repositioning process” emerged. This ongoing process of repositioning was characterized by negotiation with oneself, with people in one’s environment (including family, relatives, teachers, principals, friends, and acquaintances from one’s community), as well as with the context. This process of negotiation was described in terms of the core categories mentioned above and was related to one’s identity and positioning. The changes in positioning were accompanied by a constant process of negotiation while FGMFSs were on their educational journey was shaped by their experiences and perceptions in cross-cultural contexts. These new experiences and perceptions that led to changes can thus be seen as turning points that initiated and enabled a process of repositioning. This led the students to become open to new things, apply their innovative adaptation strategies, and strengthen and develop their sense of belonging to an academic community. The GT of the “negotiation and repositioning process” in this study thus refers to the core categories of openness, empowerment, functioning, and sense of belonging that emerged. The theory explains how FGMFSs’ concerns were managed through negotiations via different experiences and perceived actions and interactions along the educational pathway.

The findings of this study have several important implications for theory and practice. Theoretically, this dissertation clearly demonstrates the process of repositioning FGMFSs. This occurs through continuous negotiation with themselves, with others, and with the intercultural context in which they studied and lived. The findings of this study open new avenues for future research to further understand the relationship between the repositioning process and the successful educational trajectory of these and similar student groups. In addition, this study mapped the entire process of success, family life, initial schooling, transition to university, and study at the university itself. This was done by examining the experiences and perceptions of FGMFSs and linking them to a process of repositioning. Understanding these processes can enable the development of quality support interventions for this group of students.

The practical implications first draw attention to the essential categories that will be used for further activities and support programs in the education system to improve access for and study by FGMFSs in higher education. Second, the results can be used to achieve the best possible functionality and belonging in higher education and in society. High levels of belonging in higher education reduce dropout rates. Third, the process of repositioning FGMFSs through negotiations can be better supported through targeted programs or just targeted faculty support. Thus, the findings presented here can help the education system at various institutional levels understand the critical and interrelated factors that determine the successful educational pathway of FGMFSs through a repositioning process. Understanding the interrelationships among different levels of education (school to university) allows for more targeted support. The results can also be very specific at the teacher, educator, and administrator levels to help them better understand the repositioning process for these students. Encouraging and forward-looking support is needed for these students, especially in the years leading up to higher education. Consequently, this dissertation can help educational policy makers to develop their understanding of this increasing population in higher education through these students’ perspectives.
ISBN (elektroninen)978-952-03-2570-1
TilaJulkaistu - 2022
OKM-julkaisutyyppiG5 Artikkeliväitöskirja


NimiTampere University Dissertations - Tampereen yliopiston väitöskirjat
ISSN (painettu)2489-9860
ISSN (elektroninen)2490-0028


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