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Monday 2 November 2015

"Mature Student"?

The new academic year is well underway, but even so it’s worth taking a brief look back to its start.

When we think of new students we might well picture 18-year-olds fresh out of school or college, perhaps away from home for the first time, and exploring both their growing independence and the many bars, shops and restaurants of Southampton.

However, this is only part of the picture. Southampton Solent University has a generous proportion of students who have been out of education for a while – sometimes just for a handful of years, sometimes for more than an armful. For these students, starting university can bring a whole raft of issues and anxieties.

Mature students are asked to think about their hopes and ambitions as part of the Gateway programme.

That is how the Gateway programme came into being. Originally run by the Library and now at home in the new Solent Learning and Teaching Institute, Gateway is designed to introduce new mature students to the University, to useful study skills, and each other.

Run over two days just before Welcome Week, our participants are welcomed by a member of the Vice Chancellor’s Group, take a campus tour, share their hopes and fears, marvel at the free lunch, enjoy some fun but instructional activities (what items would you take with you to survive a shipwreck, and why?), and work in small groups towards a joint presentation on the last day.

This is something that plenty of people get nervous about – standing up in front of a group of relative strangers and talking about something they’ve just learned. But everyone does it, and everyone gets through it, and everyone feels really pleased with themselves afterwards!

Although putting together a presentation is a very tangible outcome of the two days, for me it is not the prime marker of success. I know when Gateway has gone well when, just before leaving, there is a flurry of paper and pens and phones, as email addresses and phone numbers are exchanged. It’s an intensive course, and solid friendships are often forged.

For example, in 2013 three interior design students met for the first time at Gateway, and even now, going into their third year, I still see them having coffee together. And last year, two Gateway alumni, both criminology students who discovered they had grown up not far from each other in southern Africa, came back to share their experiences with the new cohort.

It’s a small but valuable – and valued – piece of Solent.

Next year we hope to make it possible for even more people to participate and benefit by introducing some online resources. No doubt I will be back then to let you know how it goes!