Last December, UCAS published End of Cycles 2016, its annual report containing the latest figures regarding higher education in the UK.
Among the findings was an increasing number of applications from the EU, a decline in those coming from international students and higher application rates for young British students.
British students between 18 and 19 not only received more offers from universities, but their acceptance rates have never been higher.
The positive trend of young students contrasts with the negative trend of their older counterparts: in 2016 applications from students 20 or older fell by 1.7 per cent. On top of that it has to be pointed out that the offer rate for older students has been historically lower than for younger applicants.
By looking at the big picture of higher education over the last ten years, it is noticeable how the older a person is, the less chance they have of getting accepted into higher education.
This effectively reflects into a decline of mature students attending British universities. Mature students are those undergraduate students who started their higher education later on in life, and not without difficulties. They are people who, after years away from books and exams, decide to return to the adventures of studying.
This often means a busy schedule where they have to juggle their study with work and children. An average day of a mature student could be going to lectures in the morning, picking up children at nursery in the afternoon, rushing to work and then staying in the library until the small hours.
There are many possible factors that can motivate someone to go back to books after years, from personal knowledge and passion for learning, to have better careers or simply to change their life. Regardless of the motivation, further education offers them a chance: a chance to improve themselves, to learn new skills, to make new friends, to achieve a degree they couldn’t have before, maybe because of a child born too early or because their financial situation did not allow it.
The loss of the older element of the student body in the UK is something that ought to make not only the academic world think, but everyone who cares for a fairer and more inclusive society.
If nothing is done to reverse the current trend, there is a serious risk that becoming a mature student will become a luxury for a few of the privileged – not because of financial costs or crazy schedules, but because the access to higher education will become a mirage rather than reality.
There won’t be more mature students around, younger students will not have the benefit of the experiences offered by older course-mates and society as a whole will have failed to be more inclusive.
Marco Gori is a mature student at university in Glasgow where he is studying journalism.