The number of mature students entering higher education has risen significantly since the 1980s, as successive governments have sought to widen participation to a diverse group of students (National Audit Office, 2002). Whilst in the past it was possible to describe a typical university student, today the student body is much more diverse in terms of both age and social background. The government’s widening participation initiative, driven by the Dearing Report (Dearing, 1997), has developed an agenda for lifelong learning in which all ages are encouraged to see education not as a one-off experience when young, but as a continuing process. Mature students are part of this agenda of education as lifelong learning.
Mature students, however, are not a homogenous group, and there are different definitions of the term. For purposes of this essay, a mature student will be defined as a student aged 21 or over in the academic year they enter the institution (Higher Education Statistics Agency, 2004).
Whether it is advantageous to study as a mature student, rather than coming into higher education as a school leaver, depends on a number of factors, including life experience, past educational experience, finances and support networks. This essay will consider the impact of these and other factors on studying as a mature student, and assess the advantages and disadvantages.
One of the main advantages which mature students bring to their studies is their life experience, which is, by definition, wider than their younger colleagues at university. Previous work experience, or experience of raising a family, can provide a good foundation and valuable transferable skills, such as time management, for doing a degree (Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, 2005).
Another possible advantage of studying as a mature student is a sounder financial footing, if...