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Never too late to learn what motivates mature students to return to learning

A new project has been awarded funding from the College of Social Science Research Development Fund to investigate the motivations and outcomes for mature students who study at undergraduate level part-time.

The study involves Dr Nalita James, Olivia Harrison, and Farhat Syyeda from the Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning and Dr Diana Pinto from the Centre and our School of Psychology.

The research comes at a time when there are declining numbers and completion rates amongst part-time student numbers in higher education. In England, part-time entrants fell by 42 per cent between 2008 and 2012 (HEFCE, 2014). Given that England’s growing and ageing population has increased the stock of potential part-time students in recent years, demographic pressures seem unlikely to be a driver of the decline in part-time entrants. Rather, evidence suggests that the sharp decline in part-time entrants may be due to a combination of higher education policy and funding changes and challenging macroeconomic conditions, which have persisted beyond the end of the official recession. Part-time mature students may experience ‘higher education’ in very different ways, which in turn can impact in particular ways on their identity and vital sense of belonging. In widening the focus of traditional conceptions of HE, the research will examine how to better support mature part-time learners and in doing so enhance student experience and increase retention rates.

The project will be completed in June 2015 and a research seminar will be held at the Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning to disseminate the findings.

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