Mature learners

Mature undergraduate students are typically defined as those aged 21 or over when they enter higher education.

Mature learners are more likely than their younger counterparts to have characteristics associated with disadvantage and underrepresentation in higher education.

They are more likely to:

  • have non-traditional qualifications
  • come from lower socio-economic backgrounds
  • have family or caring responsibilities
  • be disabled
  • be from black and minority ethnic groups.

Effective practice

Mature students shouldn’t be treated as a homogenous group. Different groups or sub-groups of mature learners may require different support.

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.

Research into healthcare disciplines has suggested that potential students and current staff may not have a full understanding of student loans.

Providers should make this information available to potential students through their websites. Mature learners do not think of themselves as ‘mature’ so providers should signpost this information sensibly.

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.

Mature students can feel intimidated by younger students, who have come to higher education through more conventional routes.

They may be less confident with information technology and 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 study at higher education.  

Many further education colleges (and some universities) offer the Access to Higher Education Diploma. For these courses the cost of tuition can be waived if the student completes the programme successfully.

Accredited foundation year courses (sometimes referred to as ‘year zero’), and short or part-time higher education taster accredited courses can also be well-suited for mature students.

Some students will have to work while studying or have caring responsibilities. So providers should give students the option to study bridging provision part-time.

We urge providers to work in partnerships to encourage take-up of bridging courses and increase their availability. Providers may consider this as part of partnerships through the National Collaborative Outreach Programme.

Providers should think about how they could offer alternative and flexible modes of studying. This could include:

  • evening classes
  • intensive weekend modules
  • block learning
  • 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.

Mature students are often in employment and many have caring responsibilities. Reduced intensity programmes studied over a longer period, but within the same structures as standard full-time programmes, may not be flexible enough for potential part-time students.  

Working in partnership with employers to develop and deliver degree apprenticeships is a potential way to help these 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.

Some mature students may not feel they belong at the provider in the same was younger students, and may not take part in extra-curricular activities. Encouraging them to become student ambassadors can help them to become more engagement with the community and also give them work experience and some stable income.

Mature students are more likely to commute, which can create its own barriers.

A recent report from the Higher Education Policy Institute has looked at this issue. It includes 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 and support staff
  • lecture capture
  • remote access to specialist software
  • car parking
  • creches
  • communal kitchens and private lockers.

Describe your experience of using this website

Improve experience feedback
* *

Thank you for your feedback