How easy is it for mature age students?

HOW easy, or difficult, is it for mature age students who venture into tertiary education?

There are challenges, but most of those who take the plunge make it, according to Merryn Dawborn-Gundlach, lecturer at University of Melbourne's Graduate School of Education, who completed a PhD on the subject.

She interviewed students at the University of Melbourne, aged between 23 and 75, 45% of them over 40. Of those, 40% had last studied prior to 2000.

Ms Dawborn-Gundlach said there were a number of common concerns: "The gap between when they had last studied caused anxiety.

"They worried if they had the ability, the memory.

"Academically they were fine, highly motivated, conscientious, did the readings and turned up to class, but they felt lonely and isolated."

She said many mature-age students study part-time.

"If you're bobbing in and out of uni you don't get immersed, it's difficult.

"Also the percentage of mature age students is quite low, so if do see another mature-age person you don't know if they're a student or academic.

"You don't feel like you can just say, 'I'm here too'.

One of the women interviewed said 'it's like being in a sea of youth'."

Ms Dawborn- Gundlach's suggestions are to join a club you're interested in, or to advertise and form one so you can talk to other people in a similar situation.

"It's a personal adjustment. Many students had elderly parents, dependants, or were trying to keep a job for financial reasons."

She said many mature-age students were also not doing their study with family's blessing.

"They're saying, 'Why are you doing that? You don't need to do that!'."

Mature-age students' reasons for studying were as varied as the people, with some trying to improve their qualifications so they were able to apply for other positions.

(cont'd next page).

As for academic difficulties, Ms Dawborn-Gundlach said some students talked about memory issues, "they found learning another language difficult because of the vocabulary".

And when asked if they had the option of doing an essay instead of an exam most went for an essay because they had more time to think about it.

A common theme was "how much they hated group work, unless they were in a group with other mature-age students".


"Because they felt like they took a leadership role and did all work.

"They felt like mum bossing around the kids.

"They wanted it done, and done well, and didn't want their marks decided by others' input."

Ms Dawborn- Gundlach encouraged seniors to try new things.

"A lot are asked to babysit grandchildren. There's so much they can be doing.

"Because you turn 50 doesn't mean you have to just take grandchildren to the park."


Go to Orientation Week, you will gain an overall idea of further education.

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