Plight of the mature

September 5, 1997

Annette O'Hara "Down and out by degrees" (THES, August 29) admirably highlighted the plight of the mature student with a family to support. However, although drawing a graphic picture of almost Dickensian suffering, it probably did not go far enough.

As more young people obtain university degrees, so those degrees become devalued in the job market and the student is forced to carry on and obtain yet more pieces of paper before being considered employable.

This predicament confronts the mature student with an almost impossible choice: Take the BSc and get a Class B position, competing against lots of people in their early twenties, or carry on to an MSc or a PhD and obtain a Class A job?

Ms O'Hara indicated that the third year was the most difficult for her family, but let me assure her that it can get worse. After three years of an undergraduate degree in psychology I am just approaching the end of the second year of my unfunded PhD with hopes to submit after Christmas, much to the relief of my wife and three children.

This relief probably extends to my bank manager who agreed to extend my loan recently, not because she wanted to, but because I simply could not begin to pay back the loan and threatened to declare myself bankrupt.

With fewer studentships available than ever, more students are doing their second degrees unfunded, with even more simply not bothering. Is this the way to achieve academic and technical excellence in our society, by forcing our brightest brains to live in squalor? If those second degree students with families did not spend a good proportion of the time worrying about where the next meal was coming from, imagine what they might achieve.

The only bright side to this gloomy picture is that the situation encourages the mature student to focus and get the research degree finished in record time.

Ian Sutherland Danum Drive, Plympton, Devon

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