Education : what's in it for mature women? : an analysis of the experiences of mature women returners to education
This thesis examines the experiences of mature women students who return to learning after a number of years out of the education system. It is a qualitative study based on loosely structured in-depth interviews with forty nine women attending college or university on a variety of courses in and around a northern city. The research, set within a theoretical framework of patriarchy, began as an exploration of the barriers which mature women meet when they return to education. These issues were very real in the women's lives, though they did not necessarily conceptualise them as barriers. In addition though, the appreciative, ethnographic style of research which I adopted enabled the women to tell their own stories, and totally unexpected data emerged. Around half of the students told me of painful experiences in their lives, either past or present. These stories became the central theme of the research and are presented in the main empirical chapter, largely in the women's own words. The central analytical question became 'what are the links, if any, between the women's experiences and their return to education?' I found from the research that this group of women were gaining far more from education than just paper qualifications. They talked of factors such as increasing confidence, an improved self-image, independence and fulfillment and I have made connections, which are drawn out throughout the main part of the thesis, between these factors, education and the trauma in the women's lives. The results were then used to examine the value of patriarchy as an illuminating framework for the women's experiences. In general, the women's stories are supportive of this perspective but they also highlight areas where there appears to be little research or discussion in the existing literature on patriarchy. These areas include psychological violence, the guilt feelings of the students, the control of women by other women and finally and perhaps most importantly, the agency which the women have shown in their determination to take some control over at least a part of their lives. Overall, it seems that whatever theft story, this group of students are using education as a vehicle to transform theft lives both socially and psychologically.