Many adult students would like to attend university and obtain qualifications. Their reasons are varied and particular to the individual concerned. Mature students have different needs to traditional students. British universities have not always been very welcoming to older students. There are ways that universities could attract adult students.
Some British universities realized, some years ago, that adult students have very different needs to young students. They began offering part-time courses, especially aimed at adult students. These part-time courses mean that, although it takes longer to get a degree, adult students can hold down a full-time job whilst studying. This is crucially important to adult students.
Adult students may have children, a campus Crèche means that students with children can study, happy in the knowledge that their children are well looked after on campus. This means the student has peace of mind, whilst studying, and can visit the crèche, at any time, during a break between lectures.
Bursaries and scholarships are important to British adult students because, unless their employer sponsors their studies, they are unlikely to get help with their fees from any other source. Some universities have special bursaries, scholarships and other funds to help adult students with fees and books. Some educational charities also offer mature students funding help, and colleges should be sure that they have this information to hand.
Older students are often tentative about university. It may be a very long time since they left school. In the past, very few young people went to university and older students may have little understanding, or experience, of how a university works. Mature students are apprehensive that they will not be able to get back into learning. They need encouragement, and to realize that they will not necessarily be the oldest student in the class and if they are, that it does not matter. Some British universities hold open days, especially for non-traditional students, with tutors available to speak to visitors, and advisors to deal with their fears, questions and queries. Older students find this much less threatening than attending the general open days.
Flexible courses are one thing that really helps older students, but tutors and lecturers also need to understand that that adult students must balance work, domestic and family responsibilities with studying and that this can be difficult. For example, M had difficulty attending one of her designated modules one semester, due to family and work responsibilities. M went to the faculty head, who understood her difficulty and, allowed M to agree with a tutor that M would study at home and write an extended essay, on an agreed topic, as her coursework for that semester. M was still marked as though she had studied in college. Had the Faculty head not been so understanding, M would have had to give up her studies, but she did graduate with her honours degree.
Universities need to understand that mature students are at a different place, in their lives, to young students. They have different needs and particular worries and problems, about attending universities. If universities are t attrat more adult students to attend university, they must be more welcoming to non-traditional students, more understanding of their needs, and difficulties, and evolve some flexible and innovative approaches to dealing with them. Some British universities are making great strides in the right direction, others need to follow their example.