Nicholas Hawkins, first year History and Politics student at the University of Portsmouth, has written the following blog on what it’s like to start university as a mature student. Reflecting on many of the things that concern mature students when contemplating a return to education – family commitments, finance, fitting in – Nick offers a candid account of his journey from prospective student to a first-year undergrad experiencing his first few months at university.
In my last year at school I was taught in the new ROSLA block which stood for “Raising of the School Leaving Age” as Ted Heath had done just that in 1972, from 15 to 16. However, there was a lot to be said for being a baby boomer; apart from living in a time of relative peace, antibiotics that worked, affordable housing, you didn’t need to get a degree before you could get a decent job. In the late 1970s you could get a commission in the armed forces (for example) with just five ‘O’ Levels, as they were called in the pre-GCSE days. My comprehensive school didn’t even offer ‘A’-level so I had to take those at evening classes – an opportunity which seems to have disappeared now.
I never really felt deprived by not having a degree – well not the certificate anyway, as none of my peers had one either and conversation down the pub tended to be of the “self-made expert” variety. No one had ever heard of ol’ wasisname…. Shakespeare! But there is a certain satisfaction in being able to do the Telegraph crossword, get paid for writing a magazine article and being asked to speak at a conference. It wasn’t until my last job, when I found myself managing a bunch of postgrads that I realised I’d missed out on something.
If you’re only of the punk rock generation, you will probably still be able to make good use of a degree to climb the career ladder, but if you’re a fifty-something you may be thinking that retirement could mean just watching Loose Women on daytime telly. For those of us who started work in our teens, we’ve paid off our mortgages and made all our National Insurance contributions, so we have an opportunity to re-live our misspent youths. Not only that but, as a 21-year-old I met when coming to a University Open Day said: “It’s alright for you, you can study whatever you like, I have to study something that’ll get me a job”. Ahhh, the satisfaction of being old and grey!
The perils of finding employment aside, one of the things that does put us oldies off applying to come to university is the worrying of financing it. While I’m not financially qualified to offer advice, there is some good guidance out there, and on a recent programme I watched – Martin’s Money Show – there were some really good tips dealing explicitly with the subject of student loans, and there was even a question from a mature student who was concerned about paying it back. In case you’re interested, here’s a link to the show.
Unlike the “can’t live without a mobile phone” generation, we wrinklies tend to have commitments which mean we can’t run away from home, so our choice of university, in practice, is limited to the Open University or getting out and talking to real people at our local uni. Don’t be fooled into thinking that all other students are just out of nappies or they’re a bunch of alcoholic lefty activists. They’ll only too willingly tell you the difference between a bit, byte and a nibble, but will appreciate your mature leadership in group exercises and your “degree from the university of life”. If you don’t have to rush home to take Rover to the park or plant your roses there are a shed load of clubs and societies to join including a thriving mature students’ group – just don’t refer to it as the “Darby and Joan Club”!
Ultimately, it’s a great and enjoyable way to pick up a new skill, and the best bit has to be getting a student ticket on the bus. In reply to the driver’s disbelief I explained that I was the Vice Chancellor!
Nick Hawkins (age 56¾)