As young freshers flood into Oxford Rebecca Moore talks to three women who began a little later in life

Everywhere you look in Oxford lately you see one thing: freshers.

Our city is currently filled with wide-eyed, young adults finding their feet in new situations and intimidating challenges.

But look closely and you may also spot some freshers who are not quite so young and not quite so wide-eyed.

That’s because Oxford is filled with adults beginning their academic journeys a little later than expected – and their challenges are no less intimidating.

Nationally, there has been a seven per cent rise in university acceptances from people aged 25 and over, meaning that about 37,000 people now have a place in higher education.

Both of Oxford’s universities welcome mature students and a vast majority of these students tend to be female: Oxford Brookes University estimates that of its female cohort, 68 per cent are mature.

For one Oxford resident, embarking on a university course through the Open University has been life-changing.

At the age of 63, Jennifer Fielding has just graduated from her English Literature degree through the Open University.

Having raised her children and busied herself for many years, Jennifer still had a lifetime ambition to study. In 2007 she finally found the inspiration she required at a Springboard Women’s Development course.

“I was reminded that anything is possible,” she said. “I chose the Open University for two reasons: the course was flexible enough to allow me to continue working full-time and the fees were reasonable and financial support was generally available.”

Jennifer missed the face-to-face interaction afforded to students at other universities, but knows the OU was right for her. Like many older ladies, Jennifer mistakenly believed that she would simply find study too difficult.

“You feel that it will be too hard, that you must have lost brain cells through the aging process, drink, or simply through life itself. However, the way I overcame this was by setting a timetable, logging all the time I had spent on each assignment.

“Occasionally, I would forward my assignment to my daughters for their comments. Their comments were always positive and heart-warming.

“They would congratulate my work, calling me their ‘clever mum’.”

Jennifer hopes to study for her CELTA qualification and start teaching English as a foreign language in Oxford – or possibly further afield.

She also intends to continue her studies on an MA, and since funding is an obstacle, she is applying for various scholarships and intends to work part-time teaching English to fund her passion. She concludes: “Until I find a hobby that is more interesting than reading and analysing good literature, I will continue with my studies, even when I’m 64.”

Both of Oxford’s universities work hard to ensure support – whether financial, emotional and practical – is offered to students, irrespective of age.

Oxford Mail:
Jennifer Fielding

Alice Wilby, head of UK recruitment and widening participation at Brookes, said: “Mature students sometimes need to also consider work and home-life demands, financial dependencies and the general transition back into education.

“Oxford Brookes works hard to ensure support is available for mature students during the application process, when starting their course and throughout their time of study. We also work in partnership with further education colleges to offer a range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, including a growing number of foundation degrees.”

Similarly, the University of Oxford offers Foundation courses through their Department of Continuing Education which can count as the first year of an undergraduate course.

Anna Hudson took advantage of this when she studied on a University of Oxford foundation course for two years before transferring to an undergraduate course through Harris Manchester College.

“Coming back to study as a mature student meant I was a lot more committed to it than when I was younger,” says Anne.

“The most difficult thing was balancing paid work and study, as I had many more living costs to cover than when I as younger.”

Anna is now studying for her MA in Shakespearean Studies at Kings College London, taught jointly with the Globe Theatre and she hopes for a career in the arts.

Oxford Mail:
Anna Hudson

She certainly doesn’t regret her return to education, despite the financial impact it inevitably had. “The process was hugely enriching – with benefits I will carry with me for life.”

It seems that more ladies than ever are overcoming the financial worries or psychological obstacles to study, combining their generous life experience with the enrichment of study.

And why not? As Jennifer says: “You just have to decide what you want out of life and do it.”


In her late 30s and with a husband and two children, Jo Howard decided to study for her MBA at Oxford Brookes.

As a teen, she had never even embarked on undergraduate education, instead starting her career as a bookseller, setting her down a path that saw her on the board of Waterstones aged 29.

At 38 and working for WHSmith as its director of strategy and business planning it was clear she should strengthen her credentials.

“At that level, it was expected that one should probably have an MBA. I felt it quite necessary,” she said.

However, being a mature student with responsibilities outside her studies had obvious challenges.

“I was working full-time, with two children under the age of 10.

“Luckily, my husband gave up his work and took on the lion’s share of childcare. When I was writing my dissertation, he disappeared with the children to France for the whole of August!”

Now aged 52, Jo runs a successful coaching business from home, See Change Ltd, having obtained further qualifications, including a Diploma in Coaching and Mentoring.

“Studying later in life gave me so much confidence.

“It’s such a competitive world. Ultimately, no matter how lovely your organisation is, no matter how much they like you, nobody cares about your career development the way you do – so you have to take responsibility for your own learning and career progression.”


* For details about the Springboard Women’s Development Programme which encouraged older learners and offers support and guidance, see their website our-services/springboard/

* Oxford Brookes University has useful information and a support network for mature students at

* The University of Oxford’s Continuing Education site, with details of their Foundation courses can be accessed at

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