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  • 2023welshphd

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HE in FE mature students' experiences of labour, learning and lockdowns: A feminist narrative inquiry

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date1/02/2024
Number of pages214
Awarding Institution
Award date1/02/2024
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Numbers of mature students are steadily declining across England’s HE sector. A significant proportion of mature undergraduates study at further education colleges (HE in FE), the context of this study. This inquiry builds on research which explores the effect of paid work or unpaid care work on mature students’ learning but offers a new perspective by considering the interaction of both forms of labour on learning in the home during COVID-19 lockdowns. The study broadens theoretical perspectives on this group by using Gouthro’s critical feminist theory of the homeplace. The research makes an original contribution by arguing that the key lenses through which we understand mature students’ experiences of learning at home are labour and relationships. The thesis extends Gouthro’s framework with two new important concepts: homeplace security and collective homeplaces. The inquiry also addresses a knowledge gap by examining the narrated lives of working men and women in differing family units. Qualitative data were investigated from online life history interviews with 15 HE in FE mature students and a research diary. A multi-layered, feminist framework, The Listening Guide, was used to analyse the transcripts and create I-poems. Findings indicate that the gendering of care work and the digital colonisation of the homeplace by paid work affected the students’ autonomy as learners. Reclaiming the home as a private sphere enabled them to resist some pressures and persist with study. Individual further education college staff played a major role in supporting students; however, the thesis recommends that colleges recognise unpaid work as a legitimate contributor to HE learning. To enhance social justice and gender equity, a reimagination of work-based learning which develops students’ capacity to critique structural inequality at work is needed. The study recommends that colleges work on new narratives for and about mature students which counter deficit perspectives.