If you were to ask any mature student how they manage to juggle studies, jobs and home life, you could expect a huge variety of responses. Many mature students lead a double life, holding down jobs and looking after children and a home while studying. It is inevitable that conflicts and clashes occur. Yet, somehow, they manage to split their time and energy between lectures on campus and life at home without too much difficulty.

If you were to ask any mature student how they manage to juggle studies, jobs and home life, you could expect a huge variety of responses. Many mature students lead a double life, holding down jobs and looking after children and a home while studying. It is inevitable that conflicts and clashes occur. Yet, somehow, they manage to split their time and energy between lectures on campus and life at home without too much difficulty.

Take Polly O'Neill, 52, and a mother of four (youngest 12, oldest 34) who graduated this year with a first-class honours degree in three-dimensional design (ceramics) from the Surrey Institute of Art and Design University College and has now stayed on to tackle an MA course.

Polly, who is also a grandmother, is not untypical of a large number of mature students who decide fairly late in life that they wish to return to education - an education that has tended to let them down badly the first time round.

Polly had failed her 11-plus and became totally disillusioned with school. She had married at 17 and at 18 gave birth to her first child. Following a second marriage and a second child, she left work and started dabbling in the crafts. This sparked an interest in art education and adult teaching. And after having her third child, she passed a City & Guilds teacher training qualification and started working with disabled people. At that stage she was told that she really needed to do a degree in art if she wanted to go further in her chosen field.

Like a great many mature students she enrolled for a foundation course. These courses test a prospective student's ability and talent and make sure they can meet the challenge of a degree course. In Polly's case there was no doubt. She was admitted to the Surrey Institute and threw herself into her studies.

Today she recalls how, although she was constantly invited by the many younger members of her group who admired her courage and good humour, she never socialised with them. "I had to get back to my family. Time was limited and I had to go and cook dinner while working on my sketchbook. I'd often work all night or get up at four in the morning to complete a project. Cleaning and ironing somehow went out of the window. Things were not easy. I thought that, because I was older than the other students, I should be able to do things better but I was wrong."

She also recalls how her husband took the children away for half-term holidays, leaving her behind to get on with her work. "Frankly, I was scared of failing and I certainly didn't want to let the family down and betray their unstinting support. My husband, Roger, who works in the construction industry, has been most supportive and deserves a gold medal."

It all paid off. Polly's degree show was received with critical acclaim - so much so that her work is currently on show at two London galleries and four more shows are currently in the pipeline. "I won't deny that studying has been a struggle, but it's been worth every minute," she says.

Comments