This longitudinal case study explores the progression of mature undergraduates from Year 0 through to their graduation in Welsh universities drawing on Complex Realism, an innovative methodology from natural sciences.
Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data define mature students as those aged 21 and over on matriculation. HESA shows that the UK-wide attrition rates for these students are increasingly high compared to the students categorised as younger and ‘traditional’ (Briggs et al. 2012; Gill 2021).
Historic and contemporary research which explores mature students, particularly in Welsh universities is small-scale. Also, not much is known about how mature students including the migrants respond to the current social, academic, financial, and cultural challenges.
As Sellar and Gale (2011, p. 116) note, our focus as researchers, should be expanded beyond the point of entry to the nature of the Higher Education experience to understand how we can strengthen capacities to cultivate social mobility for the disadvantaged.
This study draws on in-depth interviews conducted at three time intervals during the academic semesters and a cross sectional survey. The Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) allows me to interpret the students’ perceptions and experiences of Welsh universities by examining the causal contributions of the conditions to the outcome of interest.
1. What are the conditions (causal factors) for transition from Year 0 to graduation through the lenses of mature undergraduates?
2. How do mature students navigate through the potential barriers during the process of transition?
The sub-questions which follow up on the main research questions are:
a) Why are mature students returning to education in Wales? Why do they need to upskill or retrain?
b) Why are mature students concentrated at post-1992 universities (Merrill 2012)?