Chapter 4 Being a Mature-Aged Student Partner

Joy, Alienation, and Disappointment

In: Adults in the Academy: Voices of Lifelong Learners
Author: Preeti Vayada

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Abstract

The relationship between students and teachers is an essential factor that shapes learning, engagement, and students’ sense of belonging. Naming the student-teacher relationship a partnership: students as partners (SaP), has gained attention and grown in practice over the past decade. The metaphor of SaP challenges assumptions about what students can contribute to enhance learning and teaching. It argues for values-based interactions, which are based on the ethos of respect, reciprocity, and shared responsibility. The underlying principle of these ethos is to treat students as adults. What happens when student partners are adult students—mature-aged people with rich life experiences accrued over decades of work, parenthood, travel, and careers who return to higher education? In this chapter, I share my story of being in an extracurricular “Student-Staff Partnership Project” through a series of vignettes. I follow this with reflective discussions drawing on both SaP theorisations and literature on mature-aged students. My story outlines the joys of being accepted into a partnership project with the disappointments of not being regarded as a partner but instead being a student intern in a well-structured project aimed at getting me ‘job ready.’ I argue that when SaP is conceptualised as a structured project to build employability skills, mature-aged students will be alienated and excluded by design because programs assume a deficit view of students as young and inexperienced, in need of help and guidance to become ‘good future workers.’ The role of age, particularly the experiences of mature-aged students, has gained little explicit attention in SaP scholarship. It is time to acknowledge and name the myriad of contributions mature-aged students can bring to the co-creation of learning through partnership in order to enhance educational endeavours.

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