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Living and learning in London: my experience as a mature student

09 Mar 2023 | Emily Dixon Emily Dixon, author of London Higher’s ‘Living and Learning in London’ report published today, is Programmes, Communications and Research Officer at London Higher and a Medieval Studies student at Birkbeck, University of London.

 London Higher and HEPI's new report, Living and Learning in London: What the 2022 HEPI / Advance HE Student Academic Experience Survey tells us about student life in the capital (HEPI Report 158), shows London students are more likely than those in all other English regions to say their experience has exceeded their expectations. London students are also among the happiest, with more rating their happiness as 9 or 10 out of a maximum of 10, significantly higher than any other part of the UK.

The report provides a summary of what it is like to study in one of London’s many higher education institutions, including how different aspects of student life affect the various demographic groups in the UK’s diverse capital city. The Report busts some common misconceptions about studying in London and shows the real experience that students have when studying there.

Emily Dixon shares her reflections here:

Writing the Living and Learning in London report was an interesting challenge for me as I had to wear two hats: being a researcher at London Higher while concurrently a Medieval Studies student at Birkbeck. Juggling these two commitments, I was writing the Living and Learning in London report until the evening, then closing one laptop and opening another to write about the plague in Venice. One effect of this (other than me seeing footnotes in my sleep) was that I couldn’t help but look at all the statistics on London students and their experiences and wonder where I was represented in the data. As a part-time graduate student, people in my exact position did not respond to the survey or contribute to the dataset; nevertheless, a lot of the trends and experiences rang very true with me. Two of the stats about mature students that resonated with me most were the figures about student loneliness and attitudes to teaching staff.

The Advance HE/HEPI Student Academic Experience Survey 2022 dataset showed mature students aged 25+ being some of the least likely students to feel lonely; comparing my experience as a student now as opposed to when I was younger and studying for my first degree, that resonated with me. Many young students (21 and under) will either be living away from home for university and having the traditional ‘student experience’; or they may be commuting from home and surrounded by other students living in halls. When I was 18, I had moved to a new city to study and university life felt like my total existence. Studying again almost ten years later in London, I have a full-time job, a partner with whom I live, relationships with my friends and family, neighbours, co-workers, and others that form my social world. I have made friends through my Masters degree, and I enjoy a trip to the pub with my seminar group, but I rely on my university friends far less than I used to. Many of London’s mature students have families, often including extensive caring responsibilities. For students who have part-time or full-time jobs alongside their studies, I can see how people would tend to be less lonely, or where they are lonely, they might be experiencing this in a different way.

Regarding attitudes to teaching staff, the dataset in the report reveals that mature students were more likely to indicate they were satisfied with their relationships with their teaching staff than younger students. I can definitely see a difference in how I relate to or engage with my tutors now as opposed to when I was eighteen. The older you are, the easier it is to see academic staff as equals and see lectures and seminars as a two-way conversation where I can meaningfully contribute and ask for what I need. When I was first at university, I viewed academic staff as teachers and it felt harder to reach out to them to ask for help. I get more from my relationships with professors now that I see both of us as adults with something useful to say; and for London’s many mature students at undergraduate and postgraduate level, their understanding of what it means to ask a professor for clarification or give their feedback on a session will be different from younger students’.

These are just a couple of overarching points from the many findings in the Student Academic Experience Survey data that struck me particularly as a mature part-time student in London. First, we can see how the ‘student experience’ starts to look very different for students with different priorities and life experience. This is just a small snapshot of what can be found in the report, which contains data on so many more topics. Secondly, the data I have picked out resonates with me, but every other mature, part-time student in the capital will have their own version of these reflections. If there is one thing we have learned from this data set, it is that there is no one story to tell on the ‘student experience’. What the Living and Learning in London report aims to do is unravel the beginning of some of these stories.

London Higher’s ‘Living and Learning in London’ report is available here. The report extracts the data from the Advance HE/HEPI Student Academic Experience Survey 2022, exploring it from the perspective of London’s HE institutions

Advance HE/HEPI Student Academic Experience Survey 2023 is scheduled for publication in June.

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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