Jonathan Barclay


This is a phenomenological study into the lived experience of university students over 45 years old. The aim of the study was to collect data on older university students, which is lacking in the existing literature. Moreover, with the recent widening participation policy agenda (Browne, 2010), there is a need to ascertain if older students have different academic needs to younger students, with much less life experience.   Three students were selected using convenience sampling from two different universities. The participants were interviewed using a semi-structured format, the recordings of which were transcribed and analysed using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis. Seven themes emerged from the data, which were encapsulated in three master themes; the experience of living in different worlds, self-categorisation and stereotypical discourse relating to maturity, and learning and development. An analysis of the interviews revealed a real risk of inter-group conflict arising from: a professional identity gained from living in the real world, a lack of older student/tutor relationship, teaching styles and personal attributes valued by the participants. The themes are discussed in relation to Tajfel’s (1981) Social Identity Theory, and Turner’s (1982) Self-categorisation Theory. In conclusion, there is an argument for specific courses that recognise and utilise the older students’ past experience. Therefore, more research is needed into the needs of older university students and how to utilise their previous experience as a way of enhancing their learning.