by Melina Seiler
They are among all of us: mature students. They did not just finish school or come back from a year abroad. They have already had a work life. They married, had kids and decided to start a new experience: studying at university.
Steve Ratclicffe and Peter Cadger are two of them.
Steve is 74 years old and has already spent 15 years at the University of Stirling, saying “I am and always have been a part time student.”
He has a degree in history and politics. Now he studies journalism and religious studies.
Peter, aged 53, is a full-time student and is studying a degree in journalism as well.
Both men just got to know each other this semester in their Journalism and Society module.
“Age has never been a barrier”
“Our lecturer told me about Steve. I have never met him before, even though it’s my third year now. I couldn’t believe there is someone older than me,” laughs Peter.
Now they study together in the library.
In a study group among younger students learning is different.
“Age has never been a barrier here, but I don’t want to stand in the other students’ way, because I need more time for things like computer use. It would be unfair with a group of normal students to impede their learning.”
“I am really part of this university”
For both of them, coming to Stirling was the first time they had ever been in university. “I was a plumber for 30 years. I stopped because I was badly treated by my former employer and was really tired of people telling me what to do. It’s time now to do something for myself,” explains Peter.
Steve had a long work life in the navy at aircraft carriers. After that he did personal management and visited the university to interview graduates.
Right after he ended his career he started studying in Stirling. “I’m doing it to keep my mind active.” His family is all grown up, have good jobs and Steve, who had never earned a degree, wanted to try something new.
“After all these years, I am really part of this university.” He uses the knowledge he is gaining in the local community in Dunipace five miles outside Stirling, where he lives. “I’m also active in local politics and did some ghost writing, therefore journalistic knowledge is always useful.”
“I loved this reintroduction to education”
Peter’s interest in journalism goes back to when he was a kid. “I listened to football commentators on the radio and really liked that.”
In addition to that, his father used to buy a good quality newspaper. “I always thought: It would be great if you could write like that.”
When he got the opportunity, he went back to college in Edinburgh where he lives. “It was basically a course amid people who been out of education for three years.
“I was one of the oldest people there.” Peter and his classmates met two days a week and learned basic English, maths and history.
“I loved this reintroduction to education. I really enjoyed it.” Once, during an open day at university, people came to speak to them.
“We were treated like university students for one day. I saw a lecture and I thought I would love to do that.”
“It seems like absolutely everything is online”
Steve and Peter are happy to be part of Stirling University, but sometimes they struggle with things younger students don’t think about.
Computer use is a big issue. It is not only the basics such as googling or writing text, but also using power point presentations, online sources and the complex university portal. Steve: “I had a computer before. I was sitting in the aircraft carriers and used computers when they were first invented. I grew up with them. But still, I have difficulties, because I am out of date.”
Peter agrees: “It seems like absolutely everything is online.” But still, with time and help they can find out how to do it.
“What I can do is study, and that’s what I am here for.” For Steve it has been a great benefit to be a part-time student, so he can really take his time for everything.
Peter, as a full-time student, also struggles with his time management: “Each year is more difficult for me. I’m always in a rush with essays in the end. It does not come naturally to me.”
“Stirling is excellent for its balances”
Peter and Steve feel great to be surrounded by young adults. “We can learn from each other” says Peter.
Steve thinks everybody is well integrated: “Some years ago, in the politics department there was a big poster up saying why you should join Stirling. I had a section on it. I wrote: ‘Stirling is excellent for its balances.’
“Mature students and ordinary students both have their strength and complement each other well.” Steve would love to see his teenage grandchildren in university one day. “Both my sons have a degree. It was always important to me to offer my family education, and maybe now I can be an example for my grandchildren.”