The Mature Student: Behind The Myth

Published in CityOnTopic in September 2013

Maturity – as the cliché would have it – comes with age. Clichés about university students are numerous, too. Very few of them deal with maturity or advanced age. In those clichés students are so obviously young. Young, carefree and happy to be out of their parents’ house to drink their body weight in gin twice a week. Yet in 2012 around a third of all university students were 21 and over when starting their course and 40% of those according to The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) were over 30 years of age. Other than that mature students are not very easy to define.

“There are good students and bad students at any age and I have taught students of all ages from a wide variety of backgrounds during my career.”- Says Dr. Tim Markham, Head of the Media and Cultural Studies Department, at Birkbeck, University of London. “But I find teaching mature students more interesting. They bring their life experience, their background. These make the discussions livelier and more interesting. Also, they have to make sacrifices to be there and they are generally more motivated and interested in their studies.” – Dr. Markham says; and he should know, at Birkbeck 99% of students are over 21. “In my experience, at 18 many students go to university because they do not know what else to do. For mature students it is a big decision not taken lightly.”

Thus mature students have more responsibilities; or so the cliché would have us believe. They might have children, mortgages and jobs. They might find returning to education difficult. But everyone is faced with his or her individual challenges in life, not just in education. Maturity, another cliché has it, usually helps with those.


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