'Develop their self-confidence and their motivation shines'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A senior academic, Peter Bird, director of part-time degrees at the University of Warwick, dispelled a well-ingrained myth about mature students this week. "It is said that all mature students are highly motivated and filled with self confidence when they arrive on campus. This only becomes true after they have been helped to develop their self-confidence. Then their motivation shines."

A senior academic, Peter Bird, director of part-time degrees at the University of Warwick, dispelled a well-ingrained myth about mature students this week. "It is said that all mature students are highly motivated and filled with self confidence when they arrive on campus. This only becomes true after they have been helped to develop their self-confidence. Then their motivation shines."

He explained that for many mature students, arriving on a huge university campus can be a real culture shock. "They are disoriented and wondering whether they have made the right move. They are particularly worried about timetabling - how they can manage to fit in lectures with home life and a job. And they're worried about whether they can afford this new existence."

At the University of Nottingham, where one in four full-time students is aged over 21, there is a Mature Students' Association which helps those aged from their early twenties to post-retirement to meet like-minded men and women both socially and academically.

The university has also formed an "access and participation committee" to encourage applications from nontraditional - that is, mature - applicants. Alison Winter, head of the university's student support office, believes that motivation plays a bigger role with this group of students than with those who have arrived at university straight from school. "They have made a lot of sacrifices to come here. Many have given up a job to take a course full-time and are extremely committed."

So what courses do mature students favour? Social studies retain some of their popularity, even though the proportion signing up for them has declined. In second position come the creative arts. Meanwhile, teacher training, general studies, engineering and social studies have slumped over the past five years while courses such as business studies, mathematical sciences and paramedical subjects have risen in popularity.

Part-time degree courses have become increasingly popular with those making the leap back into education. The biggest attraction of these is that students do not need to give up their jobs. "Some of our part-time students feel confident enough after a year or so to change and take their degree full time," Warwick's Dr Bird said, and added that universities would have to become more and more flexible if they wanted to attract an increasing number of mature students.

The so-called "new" universities are more geared to the longer teaching day and flexible courses than the more traditional higher education institutions. Among the older establishments, Birkbeck College, London University, is exclusively streamlined for mature part-time students, as is the "newer" Open University, whose students, almost all of them mature, manage to juggle part-time study, radio and television lectures and an annual summer school on a real-life campus, with full-time jobs.

But in campuses filled with students aged from 18 to 80, there are remarkably few cases of ageist prejudice. At London Guildhall University, for instance, Yvonne Craig is taking a doctorate degree, having once seen life as a peace activist and sat on the bench as a magistrate. More than 10 years ago she took a Master's degree at the Scarman Centre for Public Order and was the Centre's only non-police student. Yvonne is 75 years old, a fact that has gone virtually unnoticed among other students.

Comments