Tales from the borderland: Enabling students’ experiences of preparation for higher education

Julie Willans


The fundamental aim of pre-university courses is to prepare non-traditional students with the skills, knowledge and confidence to enter higher education. However, for many students, this unfamiliar learning context can feel like a ‘not so sure’ place, a borderland between their previous lives and the anticipated goal of a university education. Drawing on the work of Alsup (2006) and Gee (2005; 2011; 2015), this paper takes the analysis of a corpus of student data from one Australian university to demonstrate how borderland Discourses can provide a porthole into the dichotomous space navigated by many students as they engage in an enabling course. The borderland Discourses of inclusivity, exasperation and empowerment discussed in this study are testimony to the contradictions and ambiguities that can arise when institutional expectations pertaining to studenthood enhance and/or unsettle the multiple identities negotiated by enabling students who are on the threshold of a university education. In their expressions of frustration regarding personal limitations and positivist, institutional practices, students provide poignant insight into issues that cause tension for them. Conversely, the sense of belonging experienced by students in ‘safe’, supportive learning environments with compassionate teachers, and structured, scaffolded curriculums that imbue a sense of capability, confidence, and empowerment, seemingly allow for a fuller, positive embodiment of a student identity.


enabling programs; higher education; student preparation; widening participation; borderland Discourses

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Banner image: Kira Jovanovski (2020), movement score 01 (detail): oil stick and acrylic on paper. Photograph by Kira Jovanovski. Cover image: Kira Jovanovski (2020), grunt_iteration 02 in the boughs and stamped: installation in University Gallery. Photograph by Jedidiah Cranfield. (c) the artist.





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