Three tips to boost social inclusion for mature students (by a mature student)

This blog post is written by Gary Donaldson, a mature student and involved in a number of projects at Edinburgh Napier including the digital student-led transition and induction programme ESTABLISH. Read more about Gary below his three tips

1. Create work opportunities for mature students

As a mature student I didn't have a lot of spare time to - or particularly want to - join a society. I struggled with the message from the beginning that this was the only way that I could be social at university and, in fact, constantly being bombarded with this message was isolating in itself. But through work opportunities within my university I made friends - both with other students and staff - and started to feel a greater sense of belonging.

I applied to be an Ambassador for the university and worked regularly on a variety of projects that really made me feel that I was a part of - and helping to shape - the university. The opportunity to be an Ambassador was fundamental in me continuing at university when I did not feel that university was for me.  I’ve actually written a book chapter on this topic which comes out early next year so I’ll keep you updated on that.

2. Utilise Technology to boost engagement

I think its a nice dream that students can be on campus every day and attend every lecture, tutorial and seminar but in my experience its not a reality any more. Not for mature students anyway.

For me, and many of my coursemates, we had to work (a lot) to be able to afford to go to university and sometimes this had to take priority over classes. We were also trying to build impressive CV’s alongside our degrees so were often grabbing internship opportunities when we could. And sometimes we just needed to sleep!

Technology helped me feel a part of the university even when I couldn’t be there physically - even if I wasn't always appearing to engage with it I knew that it was there and that made such a difference. Thinking back, some lecturers were much more tuned in with technology than others and these tended to be the lecturers I built better relationships with and subsequently did better academically in these modules. 

I think it’s key in 2019 and will be even more of a need over the next decade and beyond.

3. Create events that appeal to mature students

Many events put on by universities are fantastic! But often they are at a time that don’t suit older students who may have to drop the kids off, may have to care for someone or can’t attend for any number of reasons. 

The universities that seemed to engage mature students best all had something in common - they actually asked the mature students what sort of events they wanted, what times suited them and often included the mature students in the creation of such events to instil a sense of ownership.  Seems so simple but not every university is doing it and it can make all the difference in boosting social inclusion for mature students.

(sub tip: ask the students what appeals)

About the author

This blog post was written by Gary Donaldson

This is what Gary says about himself:

I am from Aberdeenshire in Scotland but spent the best part of the last five years in Edinburgh. I left school at 16 before finally returning to education at 28 as a mature student - firstly to college to study towards an HNC in Advertising and PR and secondly to university to study towards both a BA (Hons) in Marketing Management with Consumer Studies and an MSc in Intercultural Business Communication with TESOL. 

Throughout my time at Edinburgh Napier I worked on a variety of projects but the biggest was certainly the ‘ESTABLISH’ project. ESTABLISH was a digital student-led transition and induction programme for widening participation students with the overall aim to build a greater sense of belonging and ultimately improve engagement and retention. The project was a success and gained both national and international attention. I am incredibly proud of the work we did and through it I made the most of every opportunity - speaking at conferences around the world, meeting amazing people across the HE sector and soaking in as much student transition, engagement and wellbeing knowledge that I could.

Want more stories?

Sign up to our newsletter. We will only use your email to share stories worth sharing and max once a week.


* indicates required

About Differ
Differ is a chat app custom-built to increase social inclusion in higher education. It is based on a 5-year research project on how to increase student retention.