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Constructing higher education experiences through narratives: selected cases of mature undergraduate women students in Ghana

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:47 authored by Christine Adu-Yeboah
Higher education has expanded in many countries, including Ghana. This is attributed to the realisation that economies can only be developed and sustained through the development of human and knowledge capital, which is obtainable through higher education participation. Consequently, higher education institutions in Ghana have experienced some diversity and heterogeneity in their composition in terms of participants’ ages, socio-economic status, culture and gender, among others. However, it is important to ask how different groups of students fare once entered. A recent ESRC/DFID research project by Morley et al (2010) found that mature students are most at risk of dropping out of higher education. Yet, the experiences of mature students are under researched in Ghana. My study employed the interpretive qualitative research approach to examine life narratives via interviews with eight mature undergraduate women from different socio-economic backgrounds in one public university in Ghana. The study is based on the idea that women who combine domestic work with academic work experience tensions, and therefore must devise strategies to manage their conflicting roles in order to navigate their way through higher education. The women in this study were sampled from the departments of Sociology and Basic Education, where they are known to be clustered. The rationale was to explore their experiences, describe the strategies they adopt to navigate through HE, and to use the findings to make suggestions for institutional development and learning. The findings indicate that the women students’ different socio-economic backgrounds, marital status and family lives influence the way they experience higher education and the strategies they adopt for progressing through it. Most of the participants found academic work difficult and made reference to gaps in terms of their knowledge deficit, unfamiliar courses and teaching methods. Again, some women students felt out of place in the higher education arena and therefore had to ‘cut down much of their years’ psychologically so that they could mix easily with the younger students. The implications drawn from this study are that there is need for the formulation of an institutional policy on mature women students in higher education, which would also ensure the regular provision of professional development programmes for higher education practitioners. It is expected that when higher education practitioners are regularly trained and sensitised about the heterogeneity in the composition of higher education, and particularly about mature women students’ conflicting roles, it will improve their practice, enhance the qualitative experiences of mature women students and consequently, help to retain and increase their participation in higher education.


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