Mature student entry overtakes school leavers

THE NUMBER of mature students entering British universities and polytechnics rose 77 per cent in the Eighties to overtake the number of 18-year-old entrants.

Figures published yesterday by the Department of Education show that the typical first-year student is now more likely to be over 21 than to be a traditional school leaver. By 1990, 237,000 mature students were entering higher education, compared with 232,000 young students.

This expansion in mature student numbers - from 134,000 starting courses in 1980 - has centred overwhelmingly on the polytechnics (now the new universities) and higher education colleges. Polytechnics and colleges contained 82 per cent of mature students, as they have since 1980. A further 38,000 were studying through the Open University.

Nigel Forman, the minister responsible for further education, said: 'This increase in mature students reflects a significant change in the pattern of student participation, which is likely to be sustained in the future.'

Just over a third of mature students in universities, polytechnics and colleges were full-time. The increase in female numbers was particularly noticeable on part- time courses. By the end of the decade, women made up 49 per cent of all mature full-time students and 45 per cent of mature part- time students, compared with 42 per cent and 29 per cent respectively in 1980.

According to the department's statistical bulletin, 58 per cent of all mature students were enrolled on non-degree courses - with 21 per cent studying for a first degree, and the same proportion for a postgraduate qualification. The department defines 'mature' as 21 or over for undergraduates and 25 for postgraduates.

Only 11 per cent of mature students in polytechnics and colleges were on postgraduate courses - compared to 64 per cent of university mature students. Conversely, only 6 per cent of university mature students were studying on non-degree courses, compared to 70 per cent of mature students in polytechnics and colleges.

The Independent and Independent on Sunday will be the only newspapers publishing university and polytechnic places through the 'clearing house' this year. The first UCCA and PCAS lists will be published on Wednesday 26 August.

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