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The Academic Persistence of First‑Year First‑Generation African Students (FYFGAS): A Framework for Higher Education in South Africa

Soraya Motsabi
Boitumelo Diale
André van Zyl


Since the dawn of democracy, South African universities have seen increased access to higher education from African students, the majority being first-generation students (FGS). This increase to access came with challenges of retention and throughput amongst first-year first-generation African students (FYFGAS). Despite these challenges, there have also been FYFGAS who have successfully passed
their first year and completed their qualifications. This article used a mixed method approach with a sample of 311 FYFGAS who were registered in a standard first-year course in three faculties at a university in Gauteng. Quantitative data were collected through a questionnaire and qualitative data were collected from individual semi-structured interviews. Analyses included the use of Structural
Equation Modelling which provided interesting insights into the inter-relations between various factors. Findings from the data analyses were used to create a framework of persistence for FYFGAS in higher education. The framework focuses on the resilience factors of first-year students and the role of the institution in ensuring that these students are successful. It also provides a guide for institutional interventions aimed at improving the persistence of FYFGAS.

Keywords: first year; first-generation African students; first-generation students; higher education; persistence; resilience; social  support