Professor Martin Jones, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive Designate at Staffordshire University, discusses why it is important for mature students to retrain to future proof their career chances
All eyes were on university admissions when A-level results were published last month. There were valid concerns about the impact of the pandemic on young people starting higher education – with many concerned about their future and what is next for them.
However, the aftershocks of the Covid-19 pandemic is not just going to be felt by young people but the rest of the population as well. With unemployment forecasted to rise to 2.6 million in 2021, according to data from the House of Commons, we must do all we can to encourage mature students into education to improve their employment opportunities.
Data from the Office of National Statistics earlier this year highlights how older people, especially those over the age of 50, have been badly impacted by the pandemic, with employees aged 50 and over more likely to report working fewer hours than usual because of the pandemic between December 2020 to February 2021 compared to their younger counterparts. In addition, over a quarter of furloughed individuals are aged 50 and over, and 3 out of 10 older workers on furlough believe there is a 50% chance or higher that they will lose their job when the scheme ends.
We need to ensure people from all age groups have opportunities to retrain and have the skills required for the job opportunities available. With many jobs of the future requiring digital skills, we need to make sure people of all ages are equipped and have the capabilities required for these employment opportunities.
Moving forward, we’re going to need skilled individuals who can work in sectors like automation, artificial intelligence and the green economy to name just a few – and we will need people already in the workforce to retrain to be experts in these fields if we are going to rebuild our economy following the pandemic.
Currently, we are not on track to achieve this, with data from the Office of Students showing a 22 per cent decline in the number of mature students entering higher education between 2010-11 and 2018-19. We need to challenge this status quo and normalise going to study whatever age you are.
Step Up – Higher Education
We need to provide people with tangible ways to achieve this, and at Staffordshire University we provide people with the tools needed to reskill at any point in their life through our pre-degree Step Up To Higher Education programme – helping people take that vital first step back into education. The pre-degree level course allows students who want to return to education to develop the key academic skills required for university-level study.
Speaking to graduates of our Step Up scheme spotlights how transformational it can be – especially for mature students who want to retrain and improve their career prospects. For example, one of our students who completed our Step Up programme is a 41-year-old man who has now progressed on to an engineering degree. He currently has a job in a warehouse, but it is not providing him with the financial security he needs to look after his family which has been made ever more apparent since the start of the pandemic. Retraining will provide him with a plethora of new options, and he hopes that following the degree he’ll be able to get a job designing tech to track infectious diseases.
56-year-old Staffordshire University student Kathryn Bowden chose to study a two-year accelerated Business Management degree, having left school and college without many formal qualifications. After undertaking various commercial roles, seeing her own children flourish through their educational journey at university and after caring for her elderly parents, she was inspired to go back into education. Reflecting on her experience as a mature student, Kathryn highlights how opportunity is different now and how being in a learning environment with supportive lecturers reinforced and underpinned her commercial knowledge and opened up opportunities.
To build back our economy following the pandemic, we need to normalise going to university at any age, so we have skilled individuals to fuel our increasingly digital jobs pipeline. To achieve this, we must highlight that there is a plethora of pathways to get into university, and how this will future proof people’s prospects whatever their age.