The VitalSource Resource

The VitalSource Resource

Back to the future?

Posted by Becky Hartnup on February 18, 2020

photo-of-man-using-laptop-3182770Sometimes it feels as though you have to take a step backwards in order to move forwards. An idea that can be particularly daunting when it’s your career that you’re stepping away from. 

This winter I’ve been speaking to some ‘returners’; mature students who, having spent some years in the workplace, have decided to go back to the classroom in order to progress their careers.

It’s not an easy decision to take on a degree as an adult with a job and a family, but some see it as a necessity. Many of us are choosing to work past the standard retirement age and industries are changing, making old skill-sets redundant. MOOCs or short courses have lower levels of teaching support and high dropout rates; so for some, a university degree seems a safer option.

Often, going back to university is part of a broader plan:

  • Getting a promotion

  • Changing career

  • Returning to the workplace after time-out


Returners said:

‘I needed to get a job after having time out working for myself while raising kids. I had no recent relevant experience, so it was an opportunity to update my skills and change fields.’

‘I was wanting to change my career, and realised, when I looked at my CV that I’d done no official training for 25 years.’

A respected qualification matters to this group, but so does the ability to confidently apply relevant skills. They want to re-enter the workplace good-to-go, and to be respected.

Returners said:

‘Uni gives you the knowledge. The grade doesn’t matter.’

‘I’m equipped to do the job I want to do - and I wasn’t before’

If you are looking to attract returners to your university, showing them how your university can help enhance their current career or offer skills to change or begin a new career is a great start.

Employment outcomes of the university are less important than drilling into the detail of their own course modules. They want to know that the content is relevant to their specific career goals. Showcase how relevant your course is through online interviews or recommendations from alumni and employers. If you can demonstrate how their course will enable them to apply their skills and engage with real-world-problems back in the workplace – you could succeed in attracting this significant sector of the UK university landscape.

In Back to the Future part II, I’ll be looking at what matters to ‘returners’ and what universities can do to support them.

Topics: Students, university, academic leadership, higher education, research, mature students, returners, workplace

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