‘They kind of think that I’m better than they are’: Risk, Identity and Change in the Lives of Mature Students in Higher Education

  • Arthur Baxter
  • Carolyn Britton


Widening participation has become a central plank of the British government’s education agenda, with the target of increasing participation in higher education to 50 per cent of the age group by 2010. While the main thrust of this policy is directed at excluded groups such as young people from working-class and minority ethnic backgrounds, mature students are also perceived as potential beneficiaries of an expanding higher education system. The argument for widening participation is couched not only in terms of economic and human capital needs, but also in terms of individual development, and is linked with another key idea of the Dearing Report (National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education, 1997): lifelong learning. Education is thus seen as empowering, in that it enhances employability and is a vehicle for personal development. The view that education is empowering is one that informs many studies of mature students. In these studies empowerment is variously defined as helping students to break out of domesticity; increasing opportunities for paid work; gaining independence from traditional family structures; providing opportunities for forging new domestic roles and identities; or providing a route to independence following family breakdown (Edwards, 1993; Pascall and Cox, 1993; Maynard and Pearsall, 1994; Leonard, 1996; Merrill, 1999).


Social Class Cultural Capital Class Identity Grammar School Risk Society 
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© Arthur Baxter and Carolyn Britton 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arthur Baxter
  • Carolyn Britton

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