Bridging the generation gap in Higher Education: Intergenerational student challenge and support within families

Chadwick, Adele orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0464-6197 (2020) Bridging the generation gap in Higher Education: Intergenerational student challenge and support within families. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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As UK universities continue to attract students of all ages and numbers of older mature students increase year on year (Higher Education Statistics Agency, 2020), the situation of parents entering higher education as non-traditional students at a time when their children are also studying at university is likely to increase. An extensive body of literature considers non-traditional students in higher education, yet little attention is paid to the experiences of older, student parents and less still to the specific dynamic of parents and children from the same family studying simultaneously at university.
This qualitative, narrative case study aims to identify what influences a group of ten non-traditional, student parents, aged 39-55, to study at the time that their children are attending university and how they are motivated and challenged during this period. This provides context for the consideration of whether having a child at university supports the parents’ university experience or presents an additional challenge that could lead to lack of academic success or even attrition.
The findings suggest that having children at university influences the student parents in this case to study in higher education both directly and indirectly. Additionally, they are influenced and motivated by a desire to leave the past behind, particularly in relation to work, and for increased self-fulfilment and development. Differences are apparent between younger and older participants in the study suggesting that a more nuanced approach to research on older mature students is needed. Their motivations are, however, challenged by fear, guilt and age-related issues that may be specific to those in a mid-life stage, yet which do not currently appear to be recognised or supported by higher education institutions. Those who have been able to adapt their relationships with their children to include mutual support and engagement as students and to develop shared constructs of capital have been more likely to achieve their goals and manage challenge. Conversely, a reluctance to engage as students between the student parents and their children can add to the challenges already faced and impact negatively on educational achievements. Consideration of the relationships between the parents and their children and their engagement as students led to the development of a theoretical framework of positive (ISSA+) and negative (ISSA-) intergenerational student support and achievement founded on elements of Bourdieu’s theory of practice. Overall, these findings contribute towards a theory of intergenerational student support within families.

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