Effective practice advice
Mature students shouldn’t be treated as a homogeneous group. Different groups or sub-groups of mature students may require different support.
1. Provide outreach and information, advice and guidance
Part of the outreach for mature learners could include:
- mock interviews
- financial support
- improving the information available on different opportunities and routes into and through higher education, including the role of higher and degree level apprenticeships.
2. Promote student loans and finance information
Mature students are less likely to be aware of what financial support they are entitled to due to lack of effective, targeted information advice and guidance, particularly in relation to part-time study.
Providers should make this information available to potential students through their websites.
Providers should note that not all mature students think of themselves as ‘mature’ so information needs to be appropriately signposted.
Financial support information available to healthcare students should include the National Health Service Business Services Authority Learning Support Fund. Key parts of this fund can be used to cover the costs of travel, accommodation in two places, dependants allowance and exceptional support funds.
3. Develop ‘bridging provision’
Mature students can feel less confident than younger students, who have come to higher education through more conventional routes. They may also feel excluded from the higher education environment as they are also more likely to have outside commitments which may impact their sense of belonging.
They may also be less confident with information technology and research from the University of Bristol suggests they may learn in a more holistic way.
‘Bridging provision’ may be able to help here. These are courses designed to help adults, who may have few previous qualifications, prepare for higher education study.
When developing a bridging provision offer, providers should consider the potential impact of additional costs and how the programmes and their outcomes will meet the aspirations of mature students.
The following are examples of bridging provision:
- options to study bridging provision part-time
- the Access to Higher Education Diploma usually offered by further education colleges. For these courses, the cost of tuition can be waived if the student completes the programme successfully.
- foundation year (sometimes referred to as ‘year zero’) courses
- short or part-time higher education taster accredited courses which research from the Office for Fair Access suggests can be well suited to mature students.
We urge providers to work in partnerships to encourage take-up of bridging courses and increase their availability. Providers may consider exploring links already in place through existing networks, such as the Uni Connect programme partnerships.
4. Develop alternative and flexible study provision
Providers should think about how they could offer alternative and flexible modes of studying. This could include:
- evening classes
- intensive weekend modules
- block leaning
- online and distance learning
- delivering provision in the community.
Summer schools, partnering with further education colleges and credit accruing work placements are other ways to consider delivering higher education to mature or part-time learners.
5. Work in partnership with employers to deliver degree apprenticeships
Degree apprenticeships offer learners the opportunity to earn while they learn; to study for a Level 6 or 7 degree alongside working at least 30 hours a week. They provide an alternative for those who feel a three-year, full-time, campus-based course isn’t for them.
Degree apprenticeships attract a high proportion of older learners. In 2018-19, 53 per cent of Level 6 degree apprentices and 96 percent of Level 7 degree apprentices were 25 or over.
While the availability of apprenticeships at any level are dependent upon employers, universities can work closely with employers to ensure those opportunities are available where possible and students remain informed of the opportunities available.
6. Consider commuter students
Mature students are more likely to commute, which can create its own barriers.
A 2018 report from the Higher Education Policy Institute includes some examples of how to help students have an experience more like those who do not commute (or have a smaller commute). Examples include:
- thinking carefully about the timetable for teaching
- remote (electronic) submission of assignments
- video conferencing with teaching staff support
- lecture capture
- remote access to specialist software
- car parking
- communal kitchens and private lockers.
7. Retain mature students
Mature students are more likely to discontinue their studies. So we encourage providers to consider how they might provide further support in this area to help mature students to succeed.
Some mature students may not feel they belong at the university or college in the same way as younger students, and may not take part in extra-curricular activities. Encouraging them to become student ambassadors can help them to become more engaged with the community and also give them work experience and some stable income.