A vintage education


They’re not all old, grey and fussy – and UCD has 7,000 of them. Natalie Voorheis investigates the lives of UCD’s mature students

We have all encountered them at some point: the older gentleman or lady sat at the front of the room, usually answering every question put to the group, and often (in our eyes, at least) holding up the class by asking meandering questions with no obvious relevance. Mature students are everywhere in UCD, and are often unfairly labelled as a nuisance to the rest of us. But how fair is this perception – and how sensitive is UCD to the needs of this unique student group?

Martin Lawless is the auditor of the UCD Mature Society, as well as being Mature Students Officer for UCD Students’ Union. He explained to me that Mature Soc’s biggest challenge is the inclusion and integration of its members into the wider student community within UCD. Although mature students are undoubtedly in the minority here in UCD, there are over 7,000 of them enrolled in the university (all students over the age of 23 are considered ‘mature’) – and so their inclusion in UCD student life is of great importance.

Lawless explained that there is a general feeling of uneasiness and exclusion among the mature student population who are in the minority, and who feel this keenly.

Feelings of isolation can be a huge problem for the older student. Lawless accounts for this by explaining the lack of contact that exists between younger and mature students, and also – interestingly enough – between the various age groups within the ‘mature student’ category. Breaking down the barriers that exist between these groups is a challenging aim, because the invisible barriers are so definitively ingrained in the student population.

Your average post-Leaving Cert undergraduate student will often go out in town on an organised class night out, have a few drinks, and get to know his classmates. This scene doesn’t tend to sit easily with mature students, thus preventing them from socialising with younger students – and as a result, mature students can become pigeon-holed into socialising exclusively with other mature students.

These stereotypes often prevent the mature student from properly integrating into their class, as the younger students often have a preconceived notion of them. Thus, mature students can often seem to exist in a no-man’s land between the general student population and the lecturers and tutors.

Mature Soc try to tackle these issue by reaching out to other societies, and organising inclusive collaborative events such as debates. The society has already hosted events with the Classical Society, the L&H and TradSoc this year, and have arranged a comedy debate with the L&H at the end of February, where the two societies will debate the motion that ‘Mature students are a waste of time in UCD’. Not without an ironic sense of humour, the mature students will be debating in favour of the motion.

It is undeniable that mature students face a wildly different set of challenges to your average 19-year-old Arts student. Many are re-entering full time education after many years of working or homekeeping life, and the adjustment can be very challenging.

For the younger student population, the move from secondary school to the world of university education is one that comes hand-in-hand with a newfound freedom. Many students move away from home and into student accommodation or rented flats. College life takes precedence in their lives, often even over family life. This natural and exciting transition that many of us make and even take for granted and which is considered to constitute such a huge and important part of the typical college experience is not something that the majority of mature students can indulge in. Often a mature student is a mother, father or family breadwinner.

Ultimately, though, what matters most are the support structures offered to mature students, who are generally very positive about the impact the Mature Student Society has had on their experience of UCD life. This is testified to by Laura Connaughton, a first year studying Geography, Planning & Environmental Policy, who is the only mature student in her base class of thirty students. “It’s a really good way to meet other mature students you’d never have got to know from different courses throughout UCD,” Laura says. “I think it’s just a really good idea.”