This article presents a research case study of learners attending a university in the North West of England. The University attracts learners of all ages from diverse backgrounds; many fall into the classification of ‘non-traditional’ students who do not possess the identity associated with those who typically progress to university. Compared to students from middle-class backgrounds, who see progression to University as natural, the paper investigates if students from low participation groups feel that their background influences their university experience. Their perceived social class may direct their friendship groups, and affect engagement with university activities, academic literacy and study skills acquisition; these facets form their habitus (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1990). For these learners, the support services encountered during their early experiences of university can play a significant part in their retention and long-term outcomes.
The primary aim of this study is to explore the use of support facilities at The University and examine obstacles to their use, investigating the need for support as a secondary aim. The study examines social class, habitus, and learner identity and scrutinises the role these factors play in the acquisition of academic literacy and study skills. It evaluates research into effective academic literacy models and considers what has been implemented in other universities. It offers insight into the individual student learning experience through evaluating how learners identify themselves and how this may impact upon their academic literacy and study skills acquisition. Predominantly qualitative data has been used to investigate the social, economic and educational backgrounds of students and whether students feel prepared when arriving at university. Through a thematic analysis of topics raised during a series of focus groups, the support mechanisms that students have engaged with and possible links between social background and skills competency have been explored. Conclusions indicate that although many students do successfully engage with the current services on offer at the university, considering perceived identity with an academic literacies approach, may increase engagement and positive outcomes.