Narrowing Participation: a Mature Student’s View
Tobi Yasin gives a personal account of life as a mature student on campus.
Widening participation and fair access; these are words that encapsulate aspirational ideas which universities strive to demonstrate to prospective students. It is a lure to seduce people into choosing one university over another, yet these words are not a reality for all.
The question I want to ask is, what about the often-ignored mature students? For many mature students, the reality is isolation, loneliness and self-consciousness. The isolation comes from attending universities amongst a sea of young students; the loneliness from rarely meeting fellow mature students, even in passing while walking across campus or in the library; the self-consciousness from feeling intimidated, ignored or overwhelmed by younger students in campus bars.
The wide variety of mature students from various social backgrounds, family situations and age-ranges means that the differences between mature students are vast as opposed to the differences between younger students. One mature student, for instance, may be a 25 year-old who has been travelling for a number of years following their A levels, whilst another may be a parent living at home with a partner and children.
This can result in a number of difficulties, some of which can be reduced to the three aforementioned issues. Unfortunately, what is left for some students experiencing these difficulties is to leave the university environment altogether, so they may return to a place that, although will be less intellectually-fulfilling, is at least familiar and safe.
Speak to these mature students, ask them of their experience and you will soon find what unites most of them; isolation, loneliness and self-consciousness.
What could be done to cater for such a diverse body of students? How can you widen the possibility of participation for older students? Whatever age a student is, these problems are evident to at least some, but for mature students there is less provision for combating these negative experiences. Every fresher’s week there will be hundreds of young people walking about campus, interacting with each other, becoming excited about new experiences that are unfolding. The experience for the mature student at fresher’s week, however, may be very different. With many mature students living off campus with other commitments such as family, partners and homes to take care of, the mature student that is able to experience fresher’s week would be less able to engage and interact with students they have something in common with.
When you meet people you immediately seek to find common ground. Younger students may have instant connections such as fashion, music and youth culture, but this is not the case for older students – it can very often be difficult to engage and find commonalities with each other as older students are, usually, not having a typical university experience. On the rare occasion that you do meet people and feel like you are a part of the university, this can help normalise the experience for older students.
But, at this moment in time, universities do not do enough to ensure we are catered for and included. Yet, once this does begin to happen, university experiences for mature students will undoubtedly improve.