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Narrowing Participation: a Mature Student’s View

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.

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  1. I’ve been a mature student for 2 years, and its ridiculously alienating. Universities should make a real effort to increase the number of adult students. Its actually bad for ones wellbeing . There was one other mature student on my BA but he hated it so much, he dropped out so now I am the only one left. I am hoping to drop out after finishing this year. Very good article.

  2. So very true, I have returned to Uni after 20+ years and find it very lonely at the weekends. I don’t like drinking any longer as it’s just destructive and bad for my mental health.
    The accomodation is full of youngsters who want to party and project their ego (as most young people naturally do) so I decided to live in a house share but one of my housemates is inconsiderate, and immature in many ways and self absorbed and has no respect for me so it really tests my patience to the limit.
    Yes I could join a sports club and move house but then I doubt I would find any connection with people 20 years younger and could end up in a house that is inconvenient and has other issues. On top of that we have to deal with financing it ourselves and if we get a job having to then squeeze in all our studies inbetween meaning even less time to relax. I didn’t think it would be easy and I enjoy spending time alone but seeing everyone else out and about connecting and enjoying themselves compounds this loneliness. I don’t regret it as I am finally following my passion and wouldn’t change it for anything but if you are someone who can’t stand to be alone then I suggest finding somewhere near your current social connections be that friends or family. If you are planning to house share choose your place carefully and find out as much as you can about the residents.
    I’m sure many mature students will make connections easily and it is by no means set in stone to end up feeling isolated and lonely I just urge you to think hard and carefully about where you live and study as the article lays out some real issues that many face.

  3. I know this article is old now but it is so true! I am 2nd year undergraduate and almost twice the age of the rest of the students. I feel so lonely, I do not feel I fit in, I haven’t anyone to share my enthusiasm for the subject, other mature students are much younger and seem to fit in better. I’ve kids and family commitments so not much socialising. I have waited 20 years to be able to do this but now question my decision do go to uni, it is very demoralising.

  4. I also am a 2nd year undergraduate, I’m 42 years old and going back to college at this moment in time is probably one of the worst decisions I made. The loneliness and isolation is pure soul destroying, its gotten to the point where I’m seriously considering cutting the 2 years as a loss and quitting. It will take everything I’ve got to finish this semester and I’m literally just taking it day by day. I highly doubt I will progress to 3rd year as at this moment in time I feel it would cost me my sanity. That said here I am scouring the internet hoping to find stories of how people combated these issues.


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