The purpose of this study was to address the under-researched theme of achievement among students in a post 1992 university in the UK. The findings are based on a case study of a cohort of first year (FY) undergraduates in a science department in a post 1992 university. Three key research approaches were deployed within this case study, namely, grounded theory, phenomenography and survey research. These three distinctive approaches have been framed within a broad interpretivist perspective in which subjectivity is managed through researcher positionality and the triangulation of data where appropriate. The research findings demonstrate that the point of registration at higher education (HE) institutions does not constitute a successful student because such a constitution is a process of becoming, involving complex meaning-making processes over time. These processes are characterised by a movement from 'outsider and potential achiever' to 'insider and reflexive achiever'. Important phases within this movement are those of: attending; being engaged and solving self-identified difficulties. In the light of the evidence gathered and the review of the existing scholarship, a detailed exploration and theorisation of these phases is offered. The preoccupation with students who fail in some way has led to a lack of research into those who succeed. This research has sought to overcome this lack by exploring the active meaning-making processes that lead undergraduates to achieve. A dynamic is identified between students' reflexive management of their FY experience and aspirations to achieve and the institutional context. This dynamic is also held to undermine the notion of students as customers awaiting satisfaction, suggesting instead that students be regarded as reflexive actors in the shaping of undergraduate achievement. This study presents a novel alternative to the prevalent deficit model in the relevant research which tends to treat students as passive bearers of diverse levels of readiness for undergraduate study. It also offers an alternative to the prevailing research on why students fail to progress or stay at university.
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