In March, when UCAS published the latest figures concerning university applications, it came to light that mature students in England have been massively affected by rising tuition fees. Despite a recent spate of redundancies which would usually be expected to cause a huge increase in applications from mature students, as it did 2009/10, university applications from people aged 25-29 fell by 11.1%, and by 10% for those aged 30-39. The number of applications from those aged 40+ fell by an equally shocking 10.

In March, when UCAS published the latest figures concerning university applications, it came to light that mature students in England have been massively affected by rising tuition fees. Despite a recent spate of redundancies which would usually be expected to cause a huge increase in applications from mature students, as it did 2009/10, university applications from people aged 25-29 fell by 11.1%, and by 10% for those aged 30-39. The number of applications from those aged 40+ fell by an equally shocking 10.

Widening Participation for Mature students.

Posted in Undergraduate Finance Advice

In March, when UCAS published the latest figures concerning university applications, it came to light that mature students in England have been massively affected by rising tuition fees. Despite a recent spate of redundancies which would usually be expected to cause a huge increase in applications from mature students, as it did 2009/10, university applications from people aged 25-29 fell by 11.1%, and by 10% for those aged 30-39. The number of applications from those aged 40+ fell by an equally shocking 10.6%. This may be down to the fact that mature students can no longer take up a second student loan if they have already completed an undergraduate degree. This came in effect the same time as the tuition fee rise.

But the tuition fee increase may just be the tip of the iceberg. Often, there are deeper issues than finance preventing mature students from returning to education, such as low confidence and a lack of skills. So, what kind of support and schemes do universities offer in order to ensure this demographic can complete a degree and, subsequently, get the career they deserve?

Targeting Adult Learners

Recently, there’s been an abundance of talk about Widening Participation and there are quite a lot of schemes working to raise the number of schoolchildren aspiring to a university education.  One such is STAR (Sutton Trust Academic Routes), a three year support scheme helping to raise awareness and aspirations amongst those young people who would not necessarily have thought about university helping them to get onto a degree course.

The results of the UCAS report begs the question, are there any similar schemes in place for mature students? Well, universities do target Adult Learners in FE institutions and community education groups in order to raise awareness, strengthen study skills and support applications to higher education, and student finance, from adult learners in a similar way to schemes aimed at schoolchildren.  One such institution is The University of Leeds, which even uses ‘Learning Champions’- mature students studying at Leeds who have progressed through the routes above, to help raise the aspirations of adult learners.

Foundation Years and Access Schemes

It’s not just about the money. Often, a major barrier for those wishing to get back into education later on in life is a la ck of confidence in an academic setting. But this is usually nothing more than just a lack in confidence and easy to learn essential skills. Don’t trust that old saying - you can teach old dog new tricks!  One of the best ways to prepare adults for university is the Foundation Year (sometimes known as Year 0), which builds confidence and increases knowledge.

A Foundation Year provides students who may not meet the full requirements of an Undergraduate Degree with everything needed to successfully complete their first year. Foundation Years are usually very effective. At Leeds University, 81% of students on the Social Sciences Foundation Year end up going onto a Social Sciences, Education or Law degree.  It’s pretty easy to get funding, too – Foundation Year students are entitled to a Student Loan covering tuition fees. Depending on household income, fee waivers may also be applied.

To help those without a formal qualification to get onto a degree course, some universities also offer other programmes, such as Access Courses.  Usually, Access Courses are designed for specific subject areas - most universities will have different Access Courses for progression to humanities degrees than say, medical courses. Some Access Courses are even more specific; the University of Glasgow is the only university in the country to have separate Access Courses especially for progression onto Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary degrees.

An Access Course can take up to one academic year, longer if part-time. There are, however, shorter routes for Mature Students to get on a degree course. A great example of this is the New Beginnings, a 12 week course designed to prepare Adult Learners university study at University of East London (UEL). UEL also offers a free, two day intensive study skills programme for students wishing to brush up on their skills before they start an undergraduate programme. 

Whilst times are tough for mature students, there are a number of routes into Higher Education, and financial assistance, for the most determined mature students.


Matt M Jones