22 SES 04 A, Inclusion and Diversity in Higher Education Settings
Parallel Paper Session
This paper presents a case arguing for lifelong learning from a social justice perspective through increased participation of mature students in higher education from the perspective of social and democratic as well as individual economic benefit. This has placed a number of challenges on the role of the individual mature student in higher education and the role of higher education and lifelong learning for the mature student. This is the challenge between the growing emphasis on the need for lifelong learning in order to actively participate in economic, social and democratic life, while at the same time creating a greater need to address the concerns and difficulties facing mature students in higher education. Therefore, on the one hand mature students may be expanding their capabilities, while on the other they are taking risks; economic, social and personal. For example, gaining a qualification may increase the likelihood of getting a job but on the other hand social and personal relationships may have changed. This implies that higher education does not automatically provide straightforward benefits for all. Education and its benefits do not affect all equally, it is mediated by individual biographies and circumstances.
Drawing on data from a narrative study of fourteen first year mature students at an outreach centre of an Institute of Technology in Ireland this paper uses the capability approach of Sen (1995) and Nussbaum (2000) as a conceptual framework which allows the focus of access to education to move from an economic argument only to one that concerns individual well being. This benefits the social capital and culture of a community, together with personal growth, development and freedom, of the individual.
However, higher education for mature students, in particular, involves facing a number of risks to the individual in terms of personal and social identity, social and economic inclusion/ exclusion as well as institutional factors, all of which may help or hinder mature student participation in higher education. This potential expansion of capabilities and risks that students face in higher education is based on a unique set of individual experiences. National strategies and policies tend to place emphasis on the benefits of higher education in terms of human capital expansion. However, higher education and lifelong learning for mature students can often be about more than development of human capital. Therefore this notion neglects some of the benefits of higher education for individual mature students. In order to begin to understand the needs of the mature students this paper proposes that higher education strategy and policy needs to refocus and develop a bottom up approach, firstly addressing the needs of the individual. In order to do this educational research needs to interrogate concepts of risk and capability expansion that occur through higher educational experience.
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