This week, my mum is preparing for her final exams. There's a lot of tea and the occasional hysterical biscuit eating session involved.

She is one of the growing numbers of mature students in New Zealand's universities. In 2004, a survey by Victoria University found that of 28,973 NZ university graduates 31.4 per cent were older than 29. This growth of the older student demographic has been noticeable since the 1980s, when OECD countries identified the growth of mature students as one of the foremost concerns in the future of tertiary education.

If you're a young student you'll know this. We never fail to notice mature students. Normally they're the only ones willing to actually answer questions in lectures. But they also look distinctly more well brushed, fed and composed than younger students. Who - speaking as someone who attended lectures in her pyjamas in first year - often look like they've fallen out of a tree. Or more likely were dragged through a tree the previous night, waving a traffic cone and shouting, "I'm NOT DRUNK WHEEEEEEEEE!"

There doesn't tend to be much conversation between younger students and mature students. Normally we young things are too scared, exhausted or preoccupied with casually objectifying people on Tinder to have a conversation with older students.


There's also a little bit of mutual disdain between the generations. I mean, who asks the lecturer questions for God's sake? How ... enthusiastic.

It's because we don't often talk that I wanted to write this little ode of appreciation to older students. I don't think we talk enough about how fantastic mature students are.

It's pretty damn brave to go back to university. Just because you're old it doesn't mean you're not worried you won't make friends. And going back to a place where everyone is significantly more young, arrogant and shout-y than you would be intimidating.

Not only that, but you're expected to know things. You're old and wrinkly ... sorry Mum, lightly crinkled. That means that people look at you and expect you've sorted everything out. You probably lived through Stonehenge, Vietnam and powdered egg. If you can survive Margaret Thatcher, you can take on a few essays.

But that probably makes you nervous, because you feel obliged to understand and guilty when you don't. You've been thrown into a situation where you actively have to consider your own ignorance. We're young, so we know we're dumb. But when you're older, I'd imagine it's harder to examine gaps in your knowledge.

So yes, I think it's brave. And I don't think we acknowledge that enough.

But it's more than bravery. Older students are often far better students than we are. I have much more respect for mature students. They actually know what they want and why they're there.

I did a history degree because I just always assumed that I would go to university. I'm not there because I particularly want to be. I'm there because I feel I ought to be.


For mature students, returning to university is often a considered choice. And that's a far more difficult and admirable move.

That single-minded decisiveness is what makes mature students so determined in class. They ask questions, pester lecturers and take advantage of university services because they want to be there. That's how university should be. They're using the system properly. My defaulting into university just made me apathetic. I didn't use the opportunities available to me. I just slumped through most of it thinking, I wonder if I can get a free pen out of this ...

Finally, mature students are often incredibly kind. Old people's superpower is that they stop being self-conscious. They don't get the should-I-shouldn't-I-what-if-they-think-I'm-weird doubt reflex that stops young people from helping other people. A girlfriend of mine once mentioned to a mature student her passion for urban architecture. The next day, he brought an architecture book to class for her to borrow.

It's the sort of spontaneous kindness that makes life invariably brighter. And is often too daunting for young people to do.

I know we young things can be very indifferent to mature students. We can be rude, thoughtless and dismissive. We can be lazy, arrogant - and irritated that you make us look exactly that.

But you know what? You really, really don't deserve it. You're killing this, and I'm inspiring to watch you guys do it. And Mum, I'm very proud of you. But for God's sake stop eating my biscuits.