Expectations and realisations : experiences of mature students returning to study in an institution of public sector higher education
This interactionist study follows a group of adults, who, after a break in their formal education, return to study in an institution of public sector higher education. It is based on a series of interviews, before and during the first year of their courses to examine their subjective interpretations of the reality of the return to study in comparison with what they expected it would be like. The increasing numbers of adults returning to higher education through a variety of access courses would seem to make this an opportune time to examine such experiences. However, this research raises questions about why this should be the case and examines answers at the level of the institution and the individuals themselves. It addresses the claims that the reasons for the increase are based on ideological assumptions in line with social justice but the reality which meets this group questions whether in fact provision and practice is in line with philosophy and purpose. By allowing a group of mature students to speak for themselves it questions the assumptions of those who would advocate a separate theory of adult education. Such humanistic beliefs may be within the perception of the educators but be beyond the reality or requirements of men and women who must fit their studies into already busy lives and who may thus have an instrumental approach to education. To suggest it should be otherwise is ethnocentric. This study seeks to examine whether or not one particular polytechnic takes cognisance of the needs of adults to meet the aims it claims to hold at an ideological level. At the same time, however, it asks about the relevance of humanistic approaches considering the conflicting demands of accountability within the changing status of public sector higher education corporations.