Older and Wiser, Mature Students Go Back to Study; Those Who Missed out on University Can Have a Second Chance at Higher Education, Says Joel Wolchover

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Education 2004 your indispensable guide to making the most of your future Second chance: Loraine Jones hopes to teach primary-school childen In the fourth of our six weekly guides we help you to consider your next move.

We offer advice on how to eat and stay healthy while at university, as well as offering guidance to technophobe students who need to kit themselves out before term begins. We look at careers in the City and how to work for an ethical organisation, offer ideas for gap-year adventure in Europe and examine ways to combat student stress. Whatever your situation, Education 2004 can help.

. Issue 5: Tuesday, 14 September

THE Government intends to get half of all young people into higher education by 2010, giving the option of university to school leavers who would have been denied it in the past. If you didn't have the chance to go to university - or simply decided that it wasn't for you - it doesn't mean that you have to miss out altogether.

In fact, more than half of the undergraduates and almost 70 per cent of all postgraduate students in the UK are classed as "mature" - defined as those who are over 21 at the start of an undergraduate degree course or over 25 for postgraduate studies.

So, if you do decide to sign up for a degree course later in life, you are unlikely to be alone. There are even institutions - such as Birkbeck College, University of London - that only offer courses for mature students, specially designed to fit in with working life.

Most older students say they get more out of university with a bit of life experience behind them, and the discipline of working or raising a family means the challenge of academic work is less daunting than for a school leaver.

As a mature student you have the option to study fullor part-time, or by correspondence - with teaching materials and assessments sent through the post or online. You may be able to find a course that combines elements of all three. By the time you finish your degree, new European legislation should be in place to ban age discrimination - which means you can compete on equal terms for coveted places on graduaterecruitment schemes.

Loraine Jones, 41, from Chadwell Heath in Essex, left school in 1979 with disappointing exam results and thought she would never go to university. But five years ago, after her youngest child was born, she started working in a nursery, which led her to a fulltime degree in early-childhood studies at the Barking campus of the University of East London (UEL).

She has now finished the second of the three-year course and hopes to go on to study for a Postgraduate Certificate of Education so she can work as a primaryschool teacher.

She says: "With hindsight I can see that I didn't gain as much as I could have done at school. I got a handful of O-levels, then went to Barking College and did Alevels, but I failed one miserably and only just scraped through the others.

"One of the issues may have been the way I was taught. We weren't encouraged to ask questions or have group discussions.

Teachers are now far more aware of how children learn.

"After college I went travelling and then worked in a number of administrative jobs, working my way up to be a manager on the factory floor of a stationery company.

"After my second child was born I went to work in a nursery and realised how much I enjoy working with children. I started doing short courses in childcare and ended up at Barking College, 20 years after I had left.

"I passed my diploma in childcare and education and was asked to consider going on to university. I was absolutely terrified but I was encouraged to go on a course at UEL called New Beginnings, which is an introduction to university life. …