Gender, identity and change : mature women students in universities
In recent years policy changes have encouraged access to and the participation of adults in British universities. This thesis is a case study which looks at the experiences of non-traditional adult women students in universities. Emphasis is placed on understanding the experiences of mature undergraduate women students in universities from the perspectives of the actors. This is a sociological study. I draw on and integrate three theoretical paradigms: Marxist feminism, Marxism and interactionism. I examine the significance of macro and micro levels in shaping the behaviour, attitudes and experiences of women adult students. Gender and class were important factors in shaping the past and present lives of women in this study. However, in deciding to return to learn the women were actively choosing to change the direction of their lives. An underlying question was to what extent did studying change the way participants perceived themselves as women? Learning and the influence of social science disciplines helped the women to deconstruct and redefine the self. Being a student was influenced by the interaction of structure and agency. The women's student identity was shaped by both their own actions and institutional forces. Adult students are not homogeneous. Younger, single mature women experienced university life differently from older, married women as do full-time students compared to part-time students. The women studied here adjusted to the institutional life of a university through the formation of subcultures. To understand fully the experiences of being an adult student the interactions between public and private worlds are examined. A biographical approach using interviews was employed. A small sample of male mature students was included to identify the extent to which experiences were gendered ones. Despite the struggles the women interviewed valued the acquisition of knowledge and learning in a university environment.