Mature students need more support, says OfS 

As full-time undergraduate mature applicants from the UK rise by 24%, a new OfS report warns they need more help to succeed

The Office for Students (OfS) has called on universities and colleges to give mature students additional support, as growing numbers of them enter higher education.

In a new Insight brief – ‘Improving opportunity and choice for mature learners’ – the regulator for higher education in England says there is “a golden opportunity for universities and colleges to respond creatively to mature students’ needs and enable a new generation to gain the skills they need for their future careers”.

Mature students are defined as those aged over 21.

Ucas data shows full-time undergraduate mature applicants from the UK have risen by 24 per cent to 96,390 – an extra 18,540 students – with applications for nursing from students aged 35 and over increasing by 39 per cent. Numbers of part-time mature students are, however, falling.


According to the new Insight brief, there are several challenges around mature students that higher education providers must address:

  • Mature students are more likely to discontinue their studies – in 2018-19, 84.4 per cent of mature full-time students continued onto their second year, eight percentage points lower than young students.
  • Full-time mature students are also significantly less likely to achieve a first or 2.1 – 75.6 per cent mature students achieve these grades compared to 85.2 per cent of young students.  
  • Mature students are also more likely to come from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and must often balance study with additional responsibilities, for example caring and work commitments. 


The transition into higher education for older learners can be particularly challenging – from difficulties with getting back into studying, juggling work and family commitments, or adjusting to life on campus – Chris Millward, OfS

“When I meet with students, mature students have some of the most inspirational and passionate personal stories,” said Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at the OfS.

“Some have not thrived at school and many are driven to achieve a particular goal – academically or in their careers. For them, the transformational effect of higher education comes through loud and clear.  

“But too often the needs of mature students are overlooked. The transition into higher education for older learners can be particularly challenging – from difficulties with getting back into studying, juggling work and family commitments, or adjusting to life on campus. Encouraging data suggest we may be turning the tide in the recruitment of mature students. This presents a golden opportunity for universities and colleges to respond creatively to mature students’ needs and enable a new generation to gain the skills they need for their future careers – particularly important as we continue our recovery from the pandemic. 

“We will tailor advice and guidance to the needs of mature students – both through our online resource Discover Uni and outreach through local Uni Connect partnerships. We will look to increase the focus on mature students as we agree changes to universities’ access and participation plans following the pandemic, so that the plans more fully address increased demand for local and flexible learning among adults.”  

The OfS is today [27 May] hosting an Insight event bringing together a panel of experts to discuss how mature students can be supported to access, and achieve in, higher education.

On the panel will be OfS panel member, writer and part-time mature student Jo Barlow; Professor Elizabeth Johnson of Deakin University Australia; Professor Claire Callender of the Centre for Global Higher Education; Professor Wendy Reid of Health Education England; and Diversity UK chair Lopa Patel.

The panel will be chaired by Brooke Storer-Church, head of skills, OfS. OfS chair James Wharton will give the opening remarks and there will be keynote speeches from universities minister Michelle Donelan, Lord Karan Bilimoria and Chris Millward.

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