• The experience of women as mature students in Higher Education

      Atherton, Frances; Hanrahan, Lindsay J. (University of Chester, 2018-08-30)
      There is a substantial body of knowledge into the factors that can influence women’s experiences of Higher Education (HE) such as social class, ethnicity and gender. Additionally, there is a significant focus on women and education in relation to their academic abilities such as comparing their achievement in terms of their gender. However, much of this research focuses on attainment between groups such as men and women or explores the impact of one specific characteristic. The principal aim of my study was to explore the experiences of a small group of women who had returned to education and entered HE. Through a series of conversations their unique stories were revealed, including the challenges and opportunities that they had encountered. The original contribution to knowledge that my study makes is in the way it documents five mature women’s experiences who traditionally would not have been expected to go to university. These women are working class, with caring responsibilities, who did not anticipate a time in their lives when they would continue into HE. To attain an undergraduate degree or professional qualification seemed beyond their particular sphere. In this study, the stories of five women over the age of twenty-one, returning to HE is captured and reveals the complex issues faced as they navigated their way through unfamiliar territory. During the research recurring themes emerged in the women’s experiences including personal motivations and aspirations, challenges to learning, networks of support and learning communities which shaped their time in HE. My ethnographic analysis of their stories is framed by my own experience of returning to HE and is viewed through the lens of feminist theory. The overall conclusions from the research reveal that the five women were able to complete their courses successfully and highlights a range of positive factors about returning to education including the opportunity to engage with fellow students, increasing personal confidence and independence and developing understandings, knowledge and skills. However, my study also illustrates the real barriers and constraints to learning that proved to be tough for the women to overcome both emotionally and practically. By examining several Marxist feminist writers such as Benston (1969) and Putnam Tong (1993), I recognised how women may be oppressed or restricted in their choices based on the numerous roles that they must perform in the home. For some of the women, attempting to study in addition to fulfilling other domestic and caring responsibilities proved to be very demanding. Overall, the research highlights the complexities that this group of non-traditional students face when attempting to improve their prospects and fulfil hitherto latent potential.