The Times Higher dedicated its prestigious cover story this week to the situation of mature students in higher education. The personal stories were of journeys into and through higher education, charting life changing experiences, depicting challenges and successes that many of us working in the field will be familiar with.
However the facts and figures around access for mature students to higher education did not make for good reading. Declining numbers, lack of financial support, increased tuition fees, changes in employment support and the impact of the recession are clearly the new context of lifelong learning.
The article made me reflect on the students who enrolled on our ‘Transition’ programme for new undergraduates at Bradford this year. The students arrived early to ‘refresh’ their academic, personal and professional skills in readiness for university study.
It was not the ‘classroom’ activities that caused me to reflect, but the conversations I had with students over coffee, and the conversations I overheard between them. I was impressed by the personal organisation and focussed determination that went into overcoming barriers in getting onto the programme.
Thirty three year old Jack, a father of 2, spent 6 years in college working towards the qualifications he needed to get into university and for his partner to earn enough so that he could study full time.
Elly woke up at 5.30 am each morning so that she could leave her young son with her mother and join the car share for the 3 hour round trip to join us each day.
A few students had even arranged to pay for accommodation at local hotels so that they could take advantage of this free transition programme.
The stories that surround mature learners and their families in higher education are humbling yet reassuring in that the demand continues.