Date of Submission



At the Australian Catholic University (NSW), expansion of the undergraduate nursing program in response to a worldwide shortage of nurses resulted in increased student enrolment and accelerated diversification of the student population during the study period, 2005 to 2009. A primary focus of this investigation was to develop a better understanding of this nursing student population, and evaluate the impact of rapid unplanned change on the academic environment by exploring students' changing expectations, perceptions and experiences of science during the BN course. The research design combined a horizontal three year study with a three year longitudinal investigation. The repetitive horizontal approach provided snapshots of student perceptions and experiences, while the longitudinal study evaluated changes over the study period. A mixed methods approach was adopted utilising questionnaire surveys, focus group discussion and one-to-one interviews. Data from a total of 1448 survey responses (85% females), 10 focus group discussions (74 students) and 33 student interviews were analysed.

Increasing numbers of international, mature-aged and male students from diverse cultural, linguistic, educational, socio-economic and occupational backgrounds comprised the BN population during the period of study. Combined with technological advances, this created a unique learning environment. The first year BN cohorts consisted of approximately 80% mature-aged (>21 years) students and up to 55% international students. Having chosen the nursing profession for reasons of ample work opportunities, job security and altruism, 38% found tertiary studies more challenging than originally expected. In particular, 195 survey respondents (88.5% female students, 78.8% mature-aged, and 68.6% from non-English speaking backgrounds, NESB) in the three successive first year cohorts reported difficulty with learning science. Some students, especially males who felt isolated, stated that they initially felt uncomfortable and lacked confidence. Over 60% of students in each year of the course reported difficulty in balancing study and work, and many felt the pressure of family and other commitments. Of the first, second and third year students who worked for pay, over 405 worked in excess of 15 hours per week. Regardless of background, over 80% of the students surveyed felt competent in using electronic technology for learning. However, English language expectations posed a barrier to effective learning with 65% of respondents believing that progress in English language would benefit their studies. Many (44.4% Yr 1, 49.8% Yr 2, 62.7% Yr 3) students were able to cope with the complexities of learning science by developing active learning strategies and positive study behaviours. Students considered the collective use of various teaching modes effective, stating that there should be nor reduction in content or omission of any particular instruction mode. While progressing from first year to third year of the BN course, the proportions of students perceiving science to be "interesting" increased from 48.9% to 53.2%. In each of the three years of the BN course, over 95% of participating students realised the value of science and its significant role in nursing practice, and over 81% considered the science units to integrate well with nursing and clinical units. Students desiring more science in the BN course increased from 7.1% (8 ESB, 28 NESB) of first year respondents to 17.6% (20 ESB, 61 NESB) of third year.

As a consequence of globalisation, internationalisation and technological advances at the critical time of increased demand for skilled graduates, the characteristics of a typical student at an Australian university are hard to define. However, the student population in this study was relatively homogeneous with respect to learning behaviour and perceptions of science as all students identified with and worked towards a common goal. Results of this study contravene the misconception that students dislike science, and provide a unique insight into diverse undergraduate nursing students' academic expectations, perception, and experiences in the dynamic learning environment of the early 21st Century.


School of Arts and Sciences

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


302 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Arts and Sciences