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Seasoned Students

By David Williams (he/him)

Mature students on campus aren’t uncommon. However, each possess different motivations for returning to study. David Williams recounts his own experiences, alongside two others, on why they’re back at AUT.

One surprising outcome of a closed border for tertiary education providers has been the surge in domestic student enrolments. AUT, so far, has experienced an increase of nearly 1,000 domestic full time equivalent students.

Chancellor Derek McCormack says “To date, 2021 international equivalent full-time students are 750 less than last year and domestic international equivalent full-time students are 900 more than last year.”

What is driving this upsurge in domestic student enrolment? Newsroom suggests a combination of factors. Ben Leonard writes “what makes this boom different from those of past downturns is a combination of border restrictions, government ‘fees-free’ programmes and changes to university entrance requirements.”

Everyone has their own reasons to study and what interested me were the students returning to university life.

I had a full-time job at a museum before enrolling at AUT. There was a wonderfully diverse staff and I encountered visitors from around the world every day. I loved it. But, in the past 18 months museum visitations have halved. We were operating on skeletal staff and thus I lost the passion for my work.

I have always loved the news. I follow it religiously. So, I finally decided to channel a passion for current aff airs with a desire to make a difference in a fractured world into studying journalism and becoming a reporter.

Digital Media student Hannah wanted a challenge that pushed her into studying something creative. She completed her undergraduate in psychology and statistics and wound up working in a field unrelated to either of those topics. After four years of working in that field, however, Hannah was left feeling stagnant and uninspired.

“I decided to return to postgraduate studies out of a personal desire to learn, develop and find a pathway that I’m passionate about.”

Amy summed it up in four words: “it’s boring at home.”

Being a mother of a seven year old boy, she studies part time, with the rest of her week taken up by work and childcare. Amy notes that she had always intended to return to study. After being convinced during a conversation with an AUT lecturer on a beach in Tāwharanui, she began in 2019. Initially, returning worked out very well.

“Study is more flexible than a full-time job, I was doing something I was interested in, and I was upskilling.”

Returning to study is an exciting opportunity but it can also be accompanied by anxieties, whether economic, social or educational.

I admit, I was nervous to start again. Although that sentiment is perfectly natural when undertaking something as huge as studying, it didn’t stop the nerves. What worried me the most was starting again in my 30s. Almost every day, the insidious thought ran through my mind of “you’re too old to do this. Nobody is going to want to hire a 35-year-old journalism graduate."

Amy, 41, was worried that she was going to be the old person in the room. “Yeah, totally. I am 20 years older than some of the people in the room.” Studying at AUT has made the transition easier for her though, she didn’t feel like an outsider.

“Before enrolling at AUT, I took a philosophy class at Auckland University, and I was the only female in the room. Even then, that class felt more like a lecture.” She affirms that AUT is great for people over 25 because it feels more interactive. For Hannah, she found her workplace experience useful for the transition. “I found it a little bit daunting getting back into the mindset of studying… but I have found that my age, work and life experience have provided me with many transferable skills that have been just as important to my studies as essay writing skills.”

Returning to study later in life can sometimes provide a clarity that is often missing during undergraduate years. If you go to university straight out of highschool you may not have the clearest picture about your identity or what you want your future to look like. For myself, returning to study reinvigorated the desire to learn something new. I cannot believe I did not do this sooner. Finally, I feel like I am studying something I’m passionate about. My appetite for the topic and being intellectually stimulated again eventually drowned out any nagging doubts I may have had about returning to study. I am finally excited about what I do every day.

Hannah is more confident about her future career path than she was coming out of undergraduate study. She is passionate about helping people and wants to find a career to align with this passion. “Through my future work, I’d like to provide practical support to make a difference in people’s lives.”

However, for Amy, COVID-19 disrupted her finely balanced life. She initially started off studying towards a master's part time before COVID-19. But, putting an entire family into lockdown meant that she could not sustain work, study, childcare and running a house all at the same time.

“All of a sudden I had to magic time. For the first few weeks, during a seven-week lockdown, I thought, yeah, I can do this. It’s just for a period of time. By week four, I had to ring up and say, I cannot sustain this.” The demanding timetable caught up with her.

Once Amy finishes her post graduate diploma, she plans to take up her master's again. By combining her practical experience in communications – she worked as a writer and presenter for a series of DIY and gardening shows before having a baby – with newly acquired academic experience, Amy is excited to be able to put more credibility in the theories she is putting forward. “[by getting a master's] I will certify my knowledge and be able to contribute it to other people.”

Each of us has a different pathway in life. Some are lucky enough to find their passion straight away. However, many must navigate different routes throughout their lives, each for different reasons. Next time you see someone in one of your classes who looks a little more seasoned, they will no doubt have their own unique story as to why they returned.


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