Mature students aged 25 and over who enter university with non-traditional qualifications obtain significantly better degrees than younger students who enter with A levels, according to new research.
The findings presented to the British Psychological Society conference in London yesterday are the first to show such a clear age-related trend and suggest a "clear superiority" of mature students over those aged 21- 25, who in turn outperformed 18- to 20-year-olds.
The study analysed the degree results of almost 7,000 students at Plymouth University between 1991 and 1995.
Sherria Hoskins and Professor Stephen Newstead, of the Department of Psychology at Plymouth University, said the results were reassuring. "It reveals the expansion of non- traditional entry into higher education is not producing lower degree performances, but in fact may be raising it," they conclude.
Higher education in Britain is undergoing rapid expansion: in 1985-86 there were fewer than 1 million students in higher education but by 1994- 95 the figure was more than 1.5 million. More than one-third of new entrants were over 21 and fewer than 60 per cent of new undergraduates had A levels, offering instead qualifications such as HND, BTech or NVQs.
Miss Hoskins said that over three age ranges - 18-20, 21-25, and 25 plus - there was a systematic improvement in the class of degree obtained. "The 18-20 year olds were getting more lower second class degrees, while those over 25 were achieving more upper seconds."
The study also found that female students generally obtained much better degrees than men.
The subject areas also showed significant variation in the class of degree awarded, with technology and arts having the highest average.
Miss Hoskins said the findings have implications for university entrance policy and urged universities to review their policy of targeting mature students for extra training.
tA poor father is worse than an absent father for young boys, according to another study presented to the conference which suggests that the sons of men who are unreliable and inconsistent parents are more likely to develop behavioural problems in later life.
The findings cast doubt on the widespread prejudice against single mothers who have been blamed for the psychosocial problems of their sons as teenagers and adults.
Catherine Hepworth, of the Department of Psychology at Westminster University, London, said: "The quality of fathering is more important than anything else. If a father is unreliable he is worse than no father at all."
Ms Hepworth analysed the relationship of 99 young men (mean age 20) from north London with their fathers. The majority were white (84 per cent), working-class (83 per cent) and living at home (80 per cent). More than half came from intact families; 19 per cent from families of single mothers; 17 per cent from step-families, and 8 per cent were classed as "other".
Ms Hepworth said that poor fathering - in which fathers saw their sons infrequently, were unreliable or were repeatedly hostile or abusive - was associated with higher rates of behavioural problems in later life. This included theft, truancy, work absenteeism, damaging or destroying property, and cruelty to people or animals.
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