Topic briefing

Mature students

Published 27 July 2020

The issue

Mature undergraduate students are more likely than younger students to be underrepresented in higher education and can face different barriers to accessing and succeeding in their studies.

Key facts

  1. There has been a decline in the number of mature students entering higher education, from 243,885 in 2010-11 to 191,340 in 2018-19 (a 22 per cent drop). This has been driven by a decrease in part-time study, where entrant numbers have decreased by 52 per cent between 2010-11 and 2018-19.
  2. There has also been a 52 per cent decline in mature student entrants to other undergraduate courses including foundation degrees. This has been driven by a 70 per cent drop in mature part-time students on these courses between 2010-11 and 2018-19. This is in contrast to a 25 per cent decrease in part-time first degree entrants over the same time period. 
  3. Mature students are more likely to be from underrepresented or disadvantaged groups. Research by million+ and NUS shows that mature students are more likely to be black, Asian or minority ethnic, have known disabilities, and have non-traditional qualifications than younger students.
  4. Mature students are more likely to drop out of their course than younger students. In 2017-18, 84 per cent of mature students on full-time or apprenticeship courses continued with their course compared to 92.1 per cent of younger students. The continuation rate for mature part-time students was also lower than that for young students (64.5 per cent and 74.8 per cent respectively).
  5. Mature students on full-time or apprenticeship courses have poorer degree outcomes than young students. In 2018-19, 70.3 per cent of full-time mature students graduated with a 1st or 2:1 compared to 80.2 per cent of young students.
  6. In contrast, part-time mature students achieve better outcomes compared to younger part-time students. In 2018-19, 61.3 per cent of mature part-time students achieved a 1st or a 2.1 compared to only 44.4 per cent of young part-time students.


By mature students we mean undergraduate students aged 21 and over when they enter higher education. This is consistent with the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s definition of mature students.

Published 27 July 2020

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