Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Faculty of Education


Since the early 1980s, neo-liberal economics or economic liberalism has become a dominant ideology impacting on Australian modern public policies including education. Globalization, technology advancement and free markets with minimal government interference have contributed to uncertainty in the Australian labour market that has posed risks in employment. An ethos of equality in educational opportunities for all and job insecurity has led to growing numbers of mature age students entering Australian universities in recent years.

The main purpose of this research is to explore why mature age students enter university after working for several years. In addition, the experiences of these students as they study at university as well as their perceptions about higher education in relation to employment are examined. A qualitative, narrative inquiry was employed to investigate the integration of higher education and career development among mature age students. Five mature age students from a range of faculties in the University of Gold Coast participated in the study. Face-to-face interviews, email discussions and document reviews provide the consistency of evidence across sources of data. The five stories with a thick description of the participants’ experiences ensured the credibility of the research findings of the study.

The outcome of the study illustrates that these mature age students believed that higher education could provide them with opportunities that could transform their lives. Engaging in higher education allowed them to pursue goals that would make them feel happy, fulfilled and empowered while meeting a range of social commitments. Most importantly, they developed a sense of agency after they succeeded through a very difficult process and grew in confidence. However, their anxiety for the future was not totally removed due to the expected gap between higher education and the labour market.

The study overall provides insights and guidelines for learning and career development of mature age students, and this will benefit both mature age students and higher education institutions. The major implications for universities from this study is they need to recognize mature age students as a special group and this means that their demands for career services, entry pathways to higher education and work-base learning are different from younger age students. For mature age students, they need to positively take advantage of the valuable resources of their rich life and work experience in the uncertain labour market.

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Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.