Student experience


Globally, student support mechanisms focus almost exclusively on academically 'under-performing' students, especially as insofar as academic development practices are concerned. This article makes a case for a shift in approach. Using the context of one country, South Africa, we sought to better understand the strengths that academically high-performing students (AHSs) employ in order to succeed. We drew on a conceptual lens based on Bandura’s theory of the self. Data was collected by means of document analysis, individual interviews and focus group interviews with ten (n = 10) purposively selected academically high-performing fourth-year undergraduate students in a school of education at one university. The findings show that beyond typical family and institutional factors, the students’ capability of effecting change through intentional and cognitive agentic influences is critical to their success. Importantly though, in finding their self-agentic capabilities, some found mutual support with and for peers who shared in their passion for success. This asserts the relevance of Ubuntu as a concept that underpins the understanding of ‘self’ in this context. The findings are important for theory in problematising Bandura’s self-agentic theory and expounding its application to peer learning support. It is also important for practice because understanding the AHSs’ negotiation of self-agency brings refreshing insight to the student success conundrum.

Practitioner Notes

  • Student success in university is complex and required multi-pronged approach to academic support for enhancing success
  • Academically high-performing students also have academic support need to enhance their success
  • Academically high-performing students assert self-agency in collective-self dynamic to meet their academic support need
  • Student academic support experiences need to be inclusive and strength-based to benefit all students
  • Ubuntu offers an epistemic frame to rethink student academic support praxis in the context of South Africa