Academic Paths, Ageing and the Living Conditions of Students in the Late 20th Century [*]

By Sales, Arnaud; Drolet, Rejean et al. | The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, May 2001 | Go to article overview

Academic Paths, Ageing and the Living Conditions of Students in the Late 20th Century [*]


Sales, Arnaud, Drolet, Rejean, Bonneau, Isabelle, The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology


Le monde etudiant est profondement marque par la diversite des trajectoires individuelles, qui sont souvent tres e1oignees d'un deroulement lineaire des etudes. Les consequences sur l'age des etudiants sont majeures, et la condition etudiante ne peut plus etre definie comme une experience strictement juvenile. Or, entre 20 et 30 ans, l'age engendre des imperatifs dffferentiels sur le plan des conditions et des modes de vie qui ne sont pas toujours compatibles avec la condition etudiante classique. Cette etude des parcours et de la situation financiere des etudiants des universites quebecoises de langue francaise et anglaise montre comment s'opere la deconnexion entre jeunesse et condition etudiante, et comment cette deconnexion influe sur la differenciation des conditions de vie et de financement des etudes.

Student life is profoundly marked by the diversity of individual trajectories, which are in stark contrast with the linear path traditionally taken by students. The impact on the age of the student population is significant: indeed, student life can no longer be qualified as strictly for the young. Between the ages of 20 and 30 years, different imperatives come into play in terms of living conditions and lifestyle. These imperatives are not always compatible with the conditions of classic student life. This study of the academic paths and the financial situation of Quebec university students shows how the disconnection between student condition and youth occurs and how this disconnection impacts the differentiation of student's living conditions and modes of financing university studies.

THE STUDENT WORLD at the end of the 20th century is no longer a world characterized by the homogeneity observed during the 1960s on the basis of social origin and age classes. On the contrary, student life today is marked by a diversity of individual trajectories, which have resulted in the strong diversification of the student condition. The professionalization and the "massification" of the university system, associated with a relative democratization, the proliferation of disciplines, the early, partial and temporary insertion into the world of work, the steady increase in the number of mature students, especially in graduate programs, have indeed brought about profound transformations in the way university studies are carried out and in students' living conditions. It is important to note here that female students currently constitute the majority of the student population (56%).

In the collective imagination, the student condition is traditionally associated with youthfulness. In Canada, and more specifically in Quebec, the way university studies are carried out and timing of studies as adopted by many individuals within the framework of the institutional rules and practices of the universities have progressively resulted in a relative disconnection from the traditional student condition/youth link. The student population is getting older. In fact, an increase in the proportion of students over 25 years of age has been observed with regard to full-time students: in Canada, the proportion of students aged 18 to 21 years dropped between 1980 and 1993 from 54.57% to 47.91%, [1] and to as low as 38.4% in our Quebec student sample. On the other hand, the numbers in all age groups 22 years and over have increased, and the 25-years-and-over group now represents 25% of the student population in Canada, and 31% in Quebec. The phenomenon would be accentuated if the part-time student body, whi ch is clearly older than the full-time student body, had been included in the statistics. Between 20 and 30 years, age very quickly imposes different imperatives in terms of living conditions which are not always compatible with the classic student condition. In this article, we will show how the disconnection between student condition and youth comes about by examining the individual micro-actions which determine academic paths and how this disconnection impacts the differentiation of students' living conditions, in particular from the perspective of modes of financing for university studies. …

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