ERG SES H 01, Higher Education
Policy forecasts suggest that mature students (23+) will form an increasing part of a more diverse student body in Irish HE (Higher Education) going forward , with plans to bring participation rates in line with other EU who have taken a more enlightened approach to accomodating older students in their HE systems (EU, 2011). This presents challenges for a provision that to up to now has largely been geared to the needs of a traditional-age cohort during a period of unprecedented growth in the sector (OECD 2006). To what extent this will impact on individual HEI’s (Higher Education Institutions) in a highly differentiated and increasingly diversified system of HE remains a moot point. Speculatively, this may be of little significance to HEI’s who ignore policy and continue to enforce restrictive entry for mature students and other underrepresented groups to HE (HEA 2011).Notwithstanding speculation and debate about equity and ‘balance’ in the system now and in the future, the question remains: Is Higher Education in ROI (Rep. Ireland) ‘fit for purpose’ given the forecast of circa 20% participation rates for new mature entrants by the end of the decade (2020) and 25% thereafter?
This paper presents findings from a current research effort investigating the intentions (motives) and 1st year experiences of (n=30) mature entrants in two distinct Irish Universities in the period 2012-2013. In light of the above debate about accomodating an older student body in HE in ROI, the follwing, guiding, questions are posed:
1.What are the intentions and related expectations of mature students to higher education and, bearing in mind these intentions/ expectations;
2. How do mature students experience higher education in their first year of study?
In this way, the project seeks to determine the particular reasons for taking up study at a later age as well teasing out the factors that contribute to these students success or retention in the (crucial) first year, when withdrawal rates are higher compared with subsequent years.
This study also allows for a broader consideration on the role and purpose of higher education in contemporary societies through a close examination of the multifarious reasons older students give for their return to education at a later stage in their 'learning careers' (Crossan et al, 2003). Theoretically, this study draws on the seminal work on the sociology of risk offered by Beck (1992; 2002) to frame these mature students’ journey into and through higher education. This suggests that we have encountered a new historical epoch where structural changes in the institutions of 'second modenity' means that individuals are increasingly responsible for decisions made about their own trajectories across the life-course. This leads to a risk-type biographical responses, variously described as ‘elective’ or ‘DIY’ biographies (Beck, 1992). In Beck's configuration, risk has become more individualised in contemporary (Western) societies where the cost of making a 'wrong' decision, particularly in the area of education, can be costly and, 'in some cases, disastrous' (Denney, 2005)
Beck, U. (1992). Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. Sage: London. Beck, U. & Beck-Gernsheim, E. (2002). Individualization. Sage: London. Bourdieu, P., and Wacquant, L. (1992). An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. The University of Chicago Press. Bowl, M. (2003). ‘They talk about me’: Non-traditional entrants to Higher Education. Staffs: Trentham Books. Brown, S. and Dobrin, S. (Eds.), Ethnography Unbound: From Theory Shock to Critical Praxis. Albany: State University of New York Press. Carroll, D., & Patterson, V. (2011). A Profile of Undergraduate Mature New Entrants. Dublin: HEA. Carspecken, P., & Apple, M. (1993). ‘Critical Qualitative Research: Theory, Methods and Practice. In M. Le Compte, W Millroy & J. Preissle (Eds.), Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education. London: Academic Press. Crossan, B., Field, J., Gallacher, J., & Merrill, B. (2003). Understanding Participation in Learning for Non-traditional Adult Learners: Learning Careers and the Construction of Learning Identities. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 24(1), 155-67. (DES) Department of Education and Science. (2010). National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030. Dublin: The Stationery Office. Edwards, R. (1993). Mature Women Students: Separating or Connecting Family and Education. London: Taylor and Francis. EU (European Union) (2011). Eurostat: Tertiary Education Statistics Retrieved from: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php?title=File:Median_age_in_tertiary_education,_2009_(1)_(years).png&filetimestamp=20111117133409 [Accessed on May-3, 2012]. Fleming, T. and Finnegan, F. (2011). Non-Traditional Students in Irish Higher Education: A Research Report. Retrieved from: http://www.tedfleming.net/doc/Final_Copy_July_20_2011.pdf. [Accessed on November-15, 2012]. Geertz, C. (1973) The Interpretations of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic. Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Later-Modern Age. Cambridge: Polity Press. Merrill, B., & Alheit, P. (2004). Biography and Narratives: Adult returners to learning. In Osbourne, M., Gallacher, J. & Crossan, B. (Eds.), Researching Widening Access to Lifelong Learning: Issues and approached in international research. (pp 150-162). London: RoutledgeFalmer. McCoy, S., & Smyth, E. (2011). Higher education expansion and differentiation in the Republic of Ireland. Higher Education, 61 (3) 243-260. (OECD) Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (2011). Retrieved from: http://www.oecdlibrary.org/docserver/download/fulltext/9611051ec008.pdf?expires=1336556971&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=3CF596337AFC9CC1BB054D59A5CC3200 [Accessed May 2, 2012]. ___________________________________________________________________, (2006). Reviews of National Policies for Education: Higher Education in Ireland. Paris: OECD. Reay,D. (2004). A Risky Business? Mature Working Class Women Students and Access to Higher Education. Gender and Education, 12(3), 301-317. Waller, R. (2005). I don’t’ feel like a ‘student’ I feel like me! The oversimplification of mature learners’ experiences’. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 11(1), 115-130.
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