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Across the globe, the spread of COVID-19 has led to profound changes in social interaction and organization, and the higher education sector has not been immune. The normalization of emergency online learning, or justifications of widespread and mandatory online learning protocols on grounds of crisis response, precludes the very possibility of productive debate on the value of education, particularly for adult students. This paper will examine how this ‘normalization’ can create a form of adult education that perpetuates structural inequalities of class, race, and support. It will encourage discussion about what post-pandemic pedagogy might look like, and how as educators, we can embody an ethic of hope. Moving beyond simple optimism, what specific strategies and practices can we adopt to engage mature students? How can we balance compassion and flexibility on one hand with requirements and ‘rigour’ on the other? How can we do so in a way which keeps our mature students, and their learning at the centre of what we do?
Dr Nalita James is Associate Professor in Education at the University of Leicester. Her research and teaching focus broadly on sociological issues of inequality in education. In particular, she is interested in access to, and experiences of continuing education. She has written widely on theory and research in adult education and lifelong learning. Nalita has just stepped down as Chair of SCUTREA and is currently co-chair of the Taylor and Francis journal, Studies in the Education of Adults. She is currently working on a Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government-funded project looking at the impact of community-based ESOL on social integration in Leicester.
Mature Learners in Higher Education – the ‘all-too invisible’ travellers in a ‘mapless journey’
Dr Sharon Clancy, University of Nottingham
Social and economic equality has been reimagined in recent times in terms of social mobility. Individual “success” is increasingly equated with moving beyond one’s community of origin and entering Higher Education. Whilst growing numbers of people study in HE, 49% in 2015/16 (HEIPR), “there has been no trend of improvement in the gap in Russell Group attendance by socioeconomic status” (Sutton Trust, 2017) and there has been a dramatic decline in part-time and mature learners over the past 7 years. Entering such institutions can lead to a struggle with an inexplicit and often ‘hidden’ cultural and academic hegemony, particularly for those from non-traditional backgrounds. I argue for reclaiming community as a tool for personal emancipation and social and cognitive justice.
 The HEIPR continues to increase, reaching 49% in 2015/16 up from 42% in 2006/07, from Department for Education Participation Rates In Higher Education: Academic Years 2006/2007 – 2015/2016 (Provisional), SFR47/2017, 28th September 2017