Does Age Matter in Higher Education? Investigating Mature Undergraduate Students’ Experiences
thesisposted on 18.11.2019, 15:24 authored by Charlotte E. Sutton
Going to university is a big undertaking for anyone. Undergraduates in the UK generally commit three years of their life to study and generate over £30,000 of debt from student loans. However, the risks may be higher for students who are aged over 21. Personal responsibilities and the gap in their experience of education can make studying harder, as mature students drop out at twice the rate of traditional-aged students (HESA, 2012, 2016), on average. Consequently, examining the factors that disrupt mature students’ studies has been a focus of a range of research (Bamber & Tett, 2000; Bowl, 2003; Hinton-Smith, 2012) in a context where Widening Participation policies have moved away from supporting mature students.
This research considers whether mature students’ ages affect their experiences on a full-time undergraduate degree, during the first-two years. Yearly survey data, longitudinal interview and diary data was collected from a single cohort of students who started their undergraduate degrees in 2015/16, at an English university. This data was analysed according to the age of students to consider the similarities and differences in experiences of adaptions, motivations and barriers to study.
Whilst mature students seemed to adapt quickly to organising their studies, traditional-age students adapted quicker to the academic demands and to the social side of university life. Mature students also had multiple initial motivations for study and their experiences of employment, and caring for children, were influential throughout the first two-years of study. They also faced more barriers during their studies than traditional-aged students. Some of these barriers meant that they needed to be well-organised which helped them to successfully organise their academic responsibilities. Although mature students are often dealt with as a single homogenous group, this research found that their experiences were better understood when considered as separate age groups.