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University as a Mature Student

Linda Coulby and family at her graduation
Newcastle University main campus

A life changing event

I left school in 1976 having not paid very much attention at all and my exam results reflected that. In my defence, not one person in my year group gave a second thought to staying on for A levels. We each and every one of us had jobs lined up. Most of the boys were heading towards the shipyards or local engineering firms and the girls, to the shop, factory or office jobs that would be the stopgap between school and achieving marriage and children; an attitude instilled in us by society, media, our school curriculum and our teacher’s expectations of us.

Fast forward 15 years and my 2 children are now in school and every employer wants qualifications and so came college, which ultimately led to Newcastle University to study a joint degree in English Language and Literature. As the first person in my family to go to university the decision wasn’t welcomed by everyone and some family and friends were actually appalled by the decision. I was faced with comments such as “the likes of us don’t go to university” and “what’s your husband and kids supposed to do while you’re getting an education?”

My husband and kids were, in fact, very supportive and proud that I’d achieved a university place and although a full time course in terms of study, my course involved only 15 hours in university contact time, which meant I could make good use of library time as well as being there to collect the kids from school and participate in family togetherness before bedtime, after which I’d collate the results of my study into essay writing.

In that first year I’d often metaphorically pinch myself. I was in awe of the buildings, the history, the atmosphere and that some of the lecturers were actually the authors of the very books I was studying! (I was still learning how university life worked at that point.) I found many of the views and theories challenging and alien but still, I grasped at the knowledge gained in lectures and seminars, the tutorial study group and lunchtime discussion and debates, basked in the hours spent in the libraries, soaked up ideas and concepts and discovered that I had a voice that was valued and listened to. My confidence grew and brought with it an equality both with my peers and into my everyday life. However, as stimulating and enjoyable as the lectures, seminars and tutorials were, achieving my degree and then my postgraduate one, wasn’t all easy.

A home and a growing family meant money was usually tight and so on most days I’d walk home across the bridge passing by the Lit & Phil Society on the way and would often wonder about the collections held within its walls; little did I know then that you didn’t need to be a member to browse their collections. During my second year I took a weekend job, which meant my time management needed to be even more efficient but, even so there were still many late night – early hours spent frantically finishing essays for deadline submissions. 

This did mean that I wasn’t able to fit in an evening or weekend university social life and so didn’t  join any societies or groups. That isn’t said out of regret; I’ve never really been a social butterfly and not once did I feel that I was missing out, rather in fact very privileged to be part of that world. 

The pride and ceremony of Graduation Day with my husband, daughter and son beside me is one of my most treasured memories. I’d not only achieved my degree; we had got there as a family and those years continued to shape our family’s future as my husband and both children now have degrees of their own and my son is currently in his final year of his PhD. 

So yes, standing up against the initial criticisms and making the decision to attend university was most definitely the right one to have made.

Linda and family at her graduation

About the author

Linda Coulby

Linda graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Language and Literature and then later, from Northumbria University with a PGCE(FE) in Teaching and Training. She currently teaches apprentices on work based learning programmes and has an interest in crafting, creative writing, history and travel.

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