Special issue


With recent massification policies and reforms, Australia’s widening participation agenda has been instrumental in increasing participation of marginalised students in higher education. This paper considers how a sense of belonging can be instilled in marginalised students, improving retention and success and ultimately widening participation in higher education. It is recognised that one of the most important contributors to student engagement is the educator. Unfortunately, in academia today, educators are increasingly time-poor for several reasons including the neo-liberal nature of higher education, the COVID-19 pandemic and an emergency move to remote teaching. This article applies Bandura’s concept of self-efficacy to highlight how, when nurtured effectively, the student-educator relationship can contribute to improving students’ self-efficacy and their sense of belonging. Self-efficacy has been shown to affect aspirations, behavioural choices, maintenance of effort and affective reactions (Bandura, 1997), all of which can contribute to, or inhibit, students’ academic success. Self-efficacy can be increased via four sources: mastery experiences, verbal persuasion, vicarious experiences, and emotional and physiological states (Bandura, 1997). Central to this discussion is the value of vicarious experiences as a conduit between the educator and student in developing a student’s self-efficacy. This article provides practical advice for educators so they may focus their efforts and build strong student relationships in the most effective manner.

Practitioner Notes

  1. Utilise storytelling in teaching by planning and being intentional about what personal experiences will assist students to make connections to content being taught and strengthen the student-educator relationship.
  2. Educators need to acknowledge that although self-sharing creates vulnerability, students will benefit through personally identifying with the educator, in-turn creating a sense of belonging.
  3. Educators may not get to know all students due to limited time; however, students will feel that they personally know the educators just through the educator opening up and being real.
  4. Educators should use multiple communication methods to reveal their personality to students, including all online resources, lectures, classes, emails and forums.
  5. Developing a connection between student and educator assists with the students gaining a sense that they belong and are accepted into the field of university.