Life as a mature student — balancing studies with commitments

Razwana Sajid, a student at the Lifelong Learning Centre, reveals how part-time courses offered the flexibility to develop new skills and knowledge around her busy life and career.

Three mature students, smiling in conversation whilst drinking hot drinks in the Leeds University Union. Two are sat at a table and the third is standing.

Many people feel that life and work commitments won’t allow you to study at university.

But there are ways to balance your ambitions around work, family or caring responsibilities. For me, the answer was in part-time study with the Lifelong Learning Centre (LLC) at the University of Leeds.

For the past four years, I’ve been attending university for half a day each week. Having completed a Foundation Degree, I’m now in my first year, working towards a BA in Learning and Teaching (Special Educational Needs and Disability).

Taking inspiration

I work full-time as a team manager at Your Family Matters, an organisation that exists to prevent children from going into care. I’m also a founder of the Rochdale branch of the National Deaf Children’s Society, where I teach courses in Raising a Deaf Child and Expert Parenting.

I have two children – a daughter, 15, and a son, 18. My son has complex needs including diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder, hearing impairment, sensory issues and language disorders. Some years ago I experienced serious health complications of my own which left me with physical disabilities, auditory processing issues and a number of other conditions.

As a result, I had to re-evaluate my life and career. I started to look at university courses to give me focus and direction, as well as to expand my knowledge of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

My son was a major inspiration. As a parent, I’d struggled and battled through the education system, and been questioned by professionals about where I got my knowledge since I hadn’t been to university.

It was time to discover new opportunities, but that meant finding the right course for me.

A new direction in life

For a long time I was unable to find anything suitable. I explored various universities and colleges, but due to the time commitment involved, I was unable to take up those options – I knew I would need to continue working full-time alongside my studies.

One day, I was at an event in Leeds to raise awareness of the services offered by the Family Group. It just so happened that staff from the Lifelong Learning Centre were there as well, sharing information about higher education opportunities for adults.

With the LLC’s encouragement, I submitted an application for a Foundation Degree, not really having much of an idea of whether I’d be accepted.

My decision to apply had a lot to do with the flexibility offered by the course, which I knew would allow me to keep my job and fit my studies around my commitments as a mum.

The LLC supports mature and part-time students across the University, who in many cases will be juggling study with work commitments and care responsibilities. I found that the University, and the LLC in particular, really values the wealth and diversity of lived experience these students bring with them.

Portrait of the author during graduation, wearing ceremony gown and holding a degree certificate.
Razwana Sajid graduating with her Foundation Degree in Learning and Teaching (Special Educational Needs and Disability).

Support in getting started

The support I’ve received from my personal tutors, lecturers and support staff, both in the LLC and Disability Services at the University, has been amazing.

The LLC has an “open door” ethos and aims to be as accessible to its students as possible. All of the staff are welcoming, supportive and understanding, and I know I can email, message or phone whenever I need to book a tutorial or a meeting to discuss concerns or worries I have.

Throughout my journey I’ve met like-minded students, who either work closely with or have children with additional needs, and understand the struggles that go along with this. I’ve made a good network of friends who understand me, and I can say what I feel without being judged.

Finding my place

Today, I’m proud to say that I’ve taken up a number of voluntary opportunities that studying at Leeds has opened up for me.

I’ve regularly spoken about my experiences of studying as a Learning Champion at events for prospective mature students organised by the LLC, presented at the annual Student Education Conference organised by the Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence, and been on a student panel at a conference of the Russell Group of leading UK universities.

I can proudly say that the University of Leeds is my university, and a place where I feel I belong. That’s why I know that other mature students – with various commitments – can find their place at Leeds too.

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The University of Leeds was founded in 1904, and its origins go back to the nineteenth century with the founding of the Leeds School of Medicine in 1831.

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