Engaging mature students in HE 

What do you do when your colleague goes on a period of extended leave? You organise an online event looking at adult learners, of course, to keep their remit/work on the radar! 

Back in 2021, the Office for Students (OfS) called for more support for mature students in Higher Education (HE). So, who are mature students? As someone who works with under-represented groups that can rely on self-identification (e.g. care experienced), I thought they were well-defined. Imagine my surprise to find that, according to the House of Commons Library, there is no ‘official’ definition. You learn something new every day! Nevertheless, mature students are said to be aged 21+ when starting undergraduate study. 

Returning to education after a break is daunting; mature students can have low confidence. Also, they often have competing priorities, such as caring responsibilities and full-time work. 

The online event on engaging mature students in HE began with a quiz and a showcase of relevant Go Higher West Yorkshire (GHWY) webpages. Throughout the morning, delegates heard from the University of Leeds Lifelong Learning Centre; a staff member who was a mature student and now supports mature students in HE; and insights from a GHWY visit to Calderdale College University Centre where we heard from some of their mature students. 

A last-minute speaker absence, due to illness, meant a late change to the programme. This involved a collaborative activity using the Microsoft Teams Whiteboard tool, which I’ve only used once before as a participant but I’m all for innovating! The activity asked: ‘Who is the mature student?’. I loved the answer of ‘multi-tasking extraordinaries’! Other responses were diverse; altruistic; huge self-doubt. 

But a reply that stuck out to me was that mature students could be pretty much anyone. This brings me onto next steps, as intersectionality means that we’ll continue to work on mature students, even if not targeting them. Also, our Higher Level Skills Manager is back from their extended period of leave and will focus on this area. 

The event on mature students received positive feedback from delegates, who felt it met or exceeded their expectations. They commented on the excellent and very clear facilitation; welcoming atmosphere and how it shifted some of their own thinking/understanding. The practical learnings that delegates took away were being more empathetic and asking how people are before teaching.  

The event on mature learners was part of the Good Practice Programme (GPP) series. This is a GHWY initiative to collaboratively share best practice with semi-regular events designed to support practical learning and reflections for delegates from our partnership.  

If you are interested in the slides from either this event or past events – including co-creation and student mental health – please contact Susan Darlington, GHWY Partnership Assistant. 


Tahera Mayat, GHWY Collaborative Outreach Officer