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  • 2019collinsphd

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Lifelong learning as a transformative endeavour: how do part-time mature learners make sense of barriers and opportunities in higher education

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Published
  • Joseph Collins
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Publication date2019
Number of pages186
QualificationPhD
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Publisher
  • Lancaster University
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

The idea of the ‘lifelong learner’ has particular currency in Western economies, where citizens are expected to be work-ready at all times. Notwithstanding the “buzziness” of the term, the contemporary realities of engaging in higher education across the life-course are less well known and increasingly under pressure in the context of increasing fees, more limited student support, accessibility, and balancing study with the wider obligations of personal life. Enrolling as a part time, flexible lifelong learning student often requires major adjustments intellectually, socially, emotionally and financially. Thus, the purpose of this research is to explore the experiences of part-time mature adult students as lifelong learners in HE in Ireland (specifically in the IoT sector), in order to extend knowledge in this area and critically consider the extent to which the notion of the “lifelong learner” is being supported as part-time mature learners make sense of barriers and opportunities in HE. Indeed, whilst we have a considerable understanding of the benefits of adults participating in full-time higher education, far less information is available about what it means to study part-time and the particular challenges this mode of adult participation brings in the contemporary context. Ireland presents an important case study example because whilst it is performing well in relation to the numbers of young people continuing to tertiary level, it has much less reason to celebrate participation rates in lifelong learning. Ireland has only half the average rate of participation of the EU as a whole. Moreover, public policy is focused to encourage further participation and educators are increasingly responsible for finding ways to engage meaningfully with their part-time lifelong learning students. Taking these different issues as a jumping off point, using survey and interview data with existing part time students, this research examines the extent to which mature part-time students feel supported in becoming ‘lifelong learners’ in Ireland, and what this means in terms of the ways they position themselves, and are positioned by others, in this field. It will look specifically at the development of Lifelong Learning in HE and its current role in Irish education. The barriers to higher education are more numerous than might be imagined for part time mature students. It requires sensitivity and a real vocational commitment to help people to achieve their potential and embrace the opportunities HE brings. Research such as this can provide a roadmap in breaking down those barriers and it would be regrettable if it was not possible to carry this experience forward. The author hopes that the findings from this research will help to achieve this objective of improving the personal outcomes of part-time mature lifelong learning students and those of society more generally.