MATURE students gain better degrees than their younger peers, but are more likely to be jobless after graduation, a study has found.
An analysis by the Higher Education Statistics Agency shows that 11 per cent of 26 to 49-year-old students gained first-class degrees in 1995-96, compared with 7 per cent of younger students.
But a higher proportion of older graduates than younger were classified as unemployed six months after completing their course.
The figures show mature students may have genuine cause for concern over their likely financial position if they face three years of fee paying.
Nearly 12 per cent of 26 to 29-year-olds were considered unemployed six months after graduation, with over 12 per cent of 30 to 39-year-olds and nearly 16 per cent of 40 to 49-year-olds in the same position. This compared with around 9 per cent of 22 to 25-year-old graduates who were without a job.
The picture was less gloomy for those completing diploma programmes, with unemployment rates of around 6 per cent across all age groups up to 50.
A higher proportion of mature diploma qualifiers enter employment than younger students, who are more inclined to continue in study or training.
Overall in 1995-96, nearly half of all higher education students were aged 21 and over, with almost 750,000 students (42 per cent of the total) aged over 25. Nearly 300,000, or 17 per cent of all students, were in their thirties.
Mature students make up a significant proportion of those studying education, law, social and economic studies and subjects allied to medicine (predominantly nursing).
They are also believed to account for the majority of nearly a million students on personal and professional development courses not leading to formal qualifications.
About three-quarters of postgraduates on taught courses are over 25.