Richard Bojack, 50, is studying Social Science - Psychology at USC, while still working.
Richard Bojack, 50, is studying Social Science - Psychology at USC, while still working. Contributed

Return to study 'opens doors, opens thinking'

WHETHER it's to embrace the joy of learning or to gain knowledge for a specific venture, Dr Prue Millear - herself a former mature-age student - said a return to study "opens doors, opens thinking".

In fact, University of the Sunshine Coast psychology lecturer Dr Prudence Millear called mature-age students "non-traditional".

"They may have less education, are looking for change, come with work and family commitments, but are highly motivated," Dr Millear said.

"They can delightfully bring the rest of their lives and experiences into study. The experience of different years can be very helpful."

At the same time she said "the best students are open to new ways of doing things".

"If they can see themselves as being the same as that 18-year-old over there, in the same place, they can embrace new opportunity.

"Young people can be interesting colleagues and peers and have different ways of doing things."

USC has a high proportion of mature age students, and also has a pathway designed to help these students with their entrance to university.

The Tertiary Preparation Pathyways are "a fantastic way to get ready for the challenge of study", Dr Millear said.

"If you're thinking of coming back but are unsure what level you are at, I recommend TPP. You can study digital futures, maths, statistics, academic skills... Get a taste and decide if you want to do it. You never know until you give it a try."

University of the Sunshine Coast Vice-Chancellor (students), Professor Karen Nelson said when starting university a "sense of dislocation" is normal.

"We put effort into transition," Prof Nelson said.

"We recognise that students are not homogeneous, they are a diverse group in terms of age, previous education and life experience. We make an effort to understand and accommodate needs within the learning environment. That's where students form bonds."

Prof Nelson said often students don't realise how difficult it's going to be until they have to complete assessment.

"By then the issue is quite critical. They have to grapple with it early. They have to be prepared to put their hand up and ask for assistance and support. It's part of the learning process. They shouldn't feel it diminishes the respect the Uni has for them as a student. It's seen as a positive thing."

"Imposter syndrome" was another hurdle Prof Nelson said they saw in people who returned to study at a later stage of life.

"They think, 'Is uni for me?' 'I will be the oldest and stand out', 'I'm not sure I'm capable'.

"What we do know with mature-age students is that they go to study after a series of experiences. They have often also invested a lot more in the idea of being a student. There are things they have had to give up. The thought processes leading up are more involved and complex."

Prof Nelson said if mature-age students were supported appropriately through transition "we often find the fear of failure and generational work ethic mean they achieve at higher rates, complete at a faster rate, stick to it, get higher grades and are less likely to leave".

USC STUDENTS ON STUDYING AS A MATURE-AGE STUDENT

Linda Morse, 66, Arts - Creative Writing

"Like most mature-age students I'm here because I want to be here. I'm focused on achieving goals. I think having life experience behind you in many respects can make it much easier.

"There are a reasonable number of mature age students on the campus and I have a wide range of networking in my cohort. My best friend is 24, and I also interact with other mature-age students.

"I came through the TPP program. The Uni has been incredibly supportive. My husband has also been extraordinarily supportive."  

Richard Bojack, 50, Social Science - Psychology, working and studying full-time.

"I'm really enjoy it. It's really relevant to what I do at work.

"Even the hard work of study and managing study and work and family obligations. The biggest challenge is having enough time to do things at the level I want to do things.

"I have two sons at uni, both in first year. I have a higher level of motivation than both of them. They're doing ok but their motivation is not as high as mine." 

David Peall, 70, Arts - Creative Writing

"I was working as a refrigeration trainer in Brisbane and got a DCM. My wife allowed me to suck my thumb in the corner for three months, then said I had a choice to do something like uni or find a job.

"I was always interested in writing creatively, so I met Gary Crew and his inspirational focus, the aura he generated was really the deciding thing.

"Opportunities for what you can write I've learnt only from being at USC.

"Circumstances and situations aligning I would be interested in doing a masters.

"The uplifting uni experience has far outweighed that which might have not been right along the pathway."

Mitra Solomon, 53, Honours - Occupational Therapy

"I took a redundancy and found myself at a crossroads. I could get another job and be comfortable with what I was doing, but I thought, I want to challenge myself.

"I'm doing my honours via research, it's only offered to limited number based on GPA. I was offered the opportunity, it's quite an achievement.

"It can be really stressful because of the expectations I place on myself.

"My partner is very supporting, so are all my friends and family. They say they're inspired by me, they say, 'I'd love to do what you're doing' and 'I'm really proud of you.' But I haven't inspired anyone to do it yet."

Have you returned to study? If so, what's your experience been like? And if not, what's been holding you back? Share your story by clicking the red "ADD COMMENT" button below.