University of Sunderland (UNITED KINGDOM)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2013 Proceedings
Publication year: 2013
Pages: 1304-1313
ISBN: 978-84-616-3847-5
ISSN: 2340-1095
Conference name: 6th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 18-20 November, 2013
Location: Seville, Spain
Mature students are valuable consumers of Higher Education (HE) but their applications are continuing to drop in numbers. What causes this decline and what can be done to reverse this effect at a time when adult learners have to pay their own way to HE study? In the current economic climate, paying ones way to education is better be ‘good value for money’ and provide ‘value-added’ experience.

As a result of this, a pilot scheme has been developed by the student recruitment team in the University of Sunderland, United Kingdom, to engage with Access to HE students. The scheme is looking into how easy is for adult learners to find out all they need to know to make confident choices about the HE courses suited to them? It addresses questions from a learner’s/ applicant’s point of view such as ‘were they clear about what their chosen courses entail and how they lead in particular employment pathways after they graduate or will they have to recalculate their routes?’. It also investigates how HE providers can communicate clearly, fairly and explicitly the necessary information to adult learners to assist them in making informed decisions.

The approach to this pilot study employs a number of communication methods including Returners to Learning progression route, a ‘keeping warm’ campaign and close collaboration with wide range of student services and academic support. In particular, one of its progression routes is specifically aimed at the mature returners to learning and employs a wide range of communication methods delivered by the Marketing and Recruitment teams alongside learning and teaching approaches supported via the delivery of a 10 credits Module (Step Up to HE). The module aids making informed choices on progression from Further Education (FE) to HE and career options. It recognises the difficult transition to post compulsory education empowering participants to manage their educational experience through a reflective journey, gaining self-confidence. It integrates theory and practice to trigger learners’ critical and independent thinking.

The findings of the pilot study reveal that Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) need to rethink their communication strategies with adult learners. They need to offer added value pathways from FE to HE study, attractive solutions which respond to the need for agility and continuous change in both further and higher education. It also highlighted that transition from further to higher education study requires high-intensity support by academic and student-centred staff teams. This effort was recognised by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) who awarded the University of Sunderland the 2013 Access to HE Higher Education Provider of the Year, national award.
Adult learners, mature students, Learning Experiences in Higher and Further Education, Student-centred communication strategy.