Trailblazing the Pathway to a Degree

First in family students access university education through TAFE.
Sep 19, 2023
Valencia's graduation was source of pride for her whole family.

All journeys start with a first step and for many the pathway to a university degree begins with TAFE, which eases the transition between school and higher education for young people, especially those who are the first in their family to access higher education.

TAFE NSW’s delivery of a degree in partnership with the University of Canberra culminated in a first in family Bachelor of Event and Tourism Management Degree for Valencia Lama. As the daughter of immigrants from Tibet and Niue, an island in the South Pacific, Lama graduated from earlier this year. Her graduation was a family celebration, with family members flying from Niue and New Zealand to attend.

“My graduation was a proud moment not just for me, but for my whole family,” Lama said.

Many students from low socioeconomic backgrounds start with TAFE NSW in Year 11 as part of their school TVET program. These students have since gone on to complete Certificate III, as well as diplomas and degrees.

Data from the Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre show that students without university-educated parents face significant barriers to higher education and are only half as likely to enrol in university, as compared to those with a university-educated parent.

The Australian Association for Research in Education found that first in family students are more likely to value a tertiary education institution where they can foster relationships with teachers.

“I never thought I’d go to university - I chose not to sit the HSC, and I didn’t have anyone in my family advocating for me to go to university. It seemed out of my reach, and it felt like I’d get lost among all the other students,” Lama said.

“TAFE NSW was perfect for me because the class sizes are smaller than typical university classes, and I received a lot of one-on-one support from my teachers. They were by my side each step of the way.”

Valencia is now completing a Master of Business Administration through the Australian Institute of Business and hopes to encourage her younger brother and sister as they seek their own paths in life.

“Young people need to know that it’s okay to change your mind about your course of study, and it’s always good to know all your options. I’d encourage teenagers to consider studying with TAFE NSW after school - there is something there for everyone, and an endless amount of opportunities.”

TAFE NSW Head Teacher of Tourism and Events, Dr Lynn Van der Wagen said degree level studies open up many opportunities and enable students to work at a strategic management level.

“Graduates from the Bachelor of Event and Tourism Management have attained a wide range of roles with diverse titles such as Creative Director, Venue Manager, Marketing Events Executive, Senior Corporate Travel Agent, and Content Management Team Lead.”