Back in the 1950s and 1960s it was virtually unheard of for someone over age 23 to commence university study – at any level. There was a general perception that older individuals had already ‘run their course’ and the idea of social mobility hadn’t taken hold. Indeed, even in the 1990s, the typical image of a university student was someone who was in their late teens, a school leaver and financially backed by their parents.
But times have definitely changed. In 2015 more than 180,000 university students in Australia were aged between 30 and 39; roughly 126,000 were aged between 40 and 59; and a substantial 10,000 were aged 60 and over. And this trend looks set to continue.
As well as changes in societal norms, such as more women retraining later in their lives and the idea of life-long learning, these figures can be attributed to significant university changes including direct entry, flexible study options and online learning. These changes opened the door for many mature-age students, freeing them from the constraints of their lives.
Campus Review spoke to one Bachelor of Nursing student, Wendi Braid, 61, to find out why she wanted to study later in her life, what her experience has been like so far, and what have been her biggest challenges and opportunities.
CR: Wendi, why did you decide to study at this stage in your life?
WB: The main reason I did it was because I had been in the beauty industry for a long time and my mind had become dormant. I like to be challenged, as well. I also can’t give up work yet, so I wanted to study something I’m passionate about.
Tell me about the first few days of university. Did you find it daunting?
There are two other mature-age students in our group of roughly 60. I’m fairly confident so the age barrier wasn't an issue. When I heard all of the university terms being used though, it was like I had walked into a thick fog. There was also so much info to digest on information day. But after a couple of weeks I got the hang of it and was on Moodle. UOW (University of Wollongong) has been amazing. They’re there for any help or guidance you need. One of the lecturers told me: ‘We love mature-age students because they really want to be here'.
What are the advantages and disadvantages you face as a mature-age student compared with school leavers?
The advantages include that I have life experience. I can multitask well, and I have a stable routine. Younger students seem to get side-tracked more easily. I can also think outside of the square, which helps me out a lot. In terms of disadvantages, I’m definitely less skilled in the IT department. The younger students do everything so fast. They’re also better at assignments as they’ve just come from high school.
What advice would you give to prospective mature-age students?
If you’re thinking about it, just do it. It’s so empowering. Passing my first lot of exams was such a buzz.Do you have an idea for a story?
Email [email protected]