14 Mar 2018
A new report published today (14 March) by MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, calls for a fresh approach to boost flexible opportunities for mature students, following a steep decline in the numbers of those students.
Forgotten Learners: building a system that works for mature students notes that while increased access to university for students from disadvantaged backgrounds is rightly applauded, the focus from policy makers remains on the ‘traditional’ school-leavers while mature students have become the forgotten learners of higher education.
This evidence-based research report is strengthened by the testimony of mature students themselves, gathered in an online survey of almost 3,000 individuals and through a series of focus groups held around the country.
With the inception of the Office for Students and the upcoming post-18 education review now is the perfect opportunity to rocket-boost activity to engage and support mature students. The recommendations proposed for not only government, the Office for Students but also universities themselves, will help achieve this step-change.
Professor David Phoenix, Chair of MillionPlus and Vice-Chancellor of London South Bank University, said:
“The UK faces a daunting productivity challenge in the decade to come and in response we need a better and more flexible offer to those over 21 to ensure that we are able to upskill and reskill many more people.
"In addition, it is essential that any society with a goal of social mobility enables flexible opportunities for people throughout their lives and since mature students bring with them a wealth of experience they also make a major contribution to the vibrancy and diversity of campus life.”
"In this context the steep decline in mature student numbers at our universities has been tolerated for too long. With a funding review announced and new regulator days away from beginning operations, the time is ripe for a fresh approach to tackling this national challenge. The report outlines practical proposals for government and provides important evidence for the post-18 education review.”
Welcoming the report, Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said:
“There is a clear societal and economic benefit to people succeeding in higher education, whatever stage of their life they come to it. But too often, talented people are excluded because of a lack of options that meet their needs.
“So it is important for all of us that discussions around higher education access and participation address the very worrying trends for mature students as well as the issues for younger entrants.
“This research will help to keep minds focused on the urgent need to find innovative approaches to reduce barriers for all age groups. It will be food for thought for the new Office for Students and the higher education sector as a whole.”
Shakira Martin, NUS President, said:
“NUS welcomes this report from MillionPlus, which highlights the importance and value of mature students across the UK. This report is further evidence that mature students play a crucial role in widening access and participation in the sector, and demonstrates why it would be short-sighted to neglect mature students’ voices within mainstream conversations around higher education. With the drastic drop in the number of mature students over recent years we welcome calls for a review of maintenance support for those most in need and the reintroduction of maintenance grants.”
Notes to editors