What is the lived experience of mature students at UWE Bristol?

Fiona Hamilton, Ellie Cotgrave, Nina Higson-Sweeney

Research output: Book/ReportOther report


This report describes research carried out by the Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI) team at UWE Bristol to understand the lived experience of mature students, aged 21 or over on entry to their Undergraduate degree. The research sought to understand whether mature students at UWE Bristol faced the same barriers as those found in the literature by exploring the following questions:
1. What is the lived experience of mature Undergraduate students at UWE Bristol?
2. How well does the University and Students’ Union support mature students?
3. How do students feel this support could be improved?

This study investigated the experience of mature students through a series of focus groups. Participants were a self-selecting sample and were initially asked to complete a sign-up survey to register their interest and select their availability for a focus group. In total, 64 students completed the sign-up survey and 8 focus group sessions were scheduled, to allow for participant drop out.

In February and March 2020 6 focus groups took place with a total of 17 participants. The final two focus groups were cancelled due to the closure of the university campus so an online survey was sent to the remaining participants containing similar questions. The survey had 22 responses, bringing the total number of participants to 39.

The findings showed that participants had experienced challenges in adjusting to study that typically wouldn’t be faced by those coming to university straight from school or college. Mature students who had been out of education for a long time often felt they lacked study skills and found it difficult adjusting to student life. Many struggled to balance other commitments, notably childcare and paid work, with study. As a result, mature students were often less able to engage socially with their coursemates and take up extracurricular opportunities. Differences in outlook between mature and young students was another barrier to integration between the two groups.

Participants’ experiences of support varied. Several commented that they found it difficult to locate support when they needed it and felt that the range of services available could be better promoted. However, once they had accessed the support, mature students’ experience of it was usually positive and they felt generally well supported by the university.

As well as smaller improvements to existing services, the focus groups identified three key areas where additional support could be provided:
• Tailored induction activities and social activities for mature students
• Tailored accommodation support for mature students
• Tailored careers and placement support for mature students

A total of 8 recommendations have come from this research:
1. Increase the use of mature students in imagery and use student comms to highlight the proportion of UWE students who start their studies later in life
2. University and SU to review access to childcare for student parents and ensure the options are clearly communicated
3. Tailored induction sessions for mature students and those who have spent time out of education
4. Increase the number of freshers’ events aimed at mature students
Student experience
5. Review accommodation support offer for mature students and ways to integrate students living in private-rented
6. SU to review and promote mature student society
7. Clearer communication of all support options available to mature students at UWE
8. Tailored careers support for mature students who may be studying to pursue a career change and those wishing to access internships/placements
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversity of the West of England, Bristol
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020
Externally publishedYes


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