Lisa tells us how she became a mature student at the age of 50 – and how it’s given her a new lease of life.
In early 2017, Lisa Kay was settling into a new job.
It promised to be an exciting new start in the wake of her mother’s sudden death three years earlier – until, that was, a lengthy series of hospital visits and unexplained ailments began.
“I was rushed in for what turned out to be a sepsis-type illness,” Lisa explained.
“Then I got an infection of the gall bladder, and then a breathing tube damaged my tonsils. It was just one thing after another.”
As her health worsened, Lisa could have had no idea that her new start would come not through work, but higher education.
After all, university was a dream she had resigned herself to missing out on many years ago.
Getting answers – and inspiration
Lisa eventually went to A&E, and later learned that she was living with Paget’s disease of the bone, an incurable condition that affects bone renewal in her skull.
“I struggled on for a while, but I had to stop working,” Lisa said. “I was medically retired in March 2021 and found myself thinking ‘now what?’.
“I still wanted to do something – something that let me be flexible around my health, but something demanding and exciting all the same.”
Lisa turned to the web and found a counselling course with the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of Warwick.
It was just the beginning.
“I soon heard people talking about Gateway to Higher Education"
“I soon heard people talking about Gateway to Higher Education – a free part-time course where if you do well, you get a guaranteed place to study for a Social Studies degree at Warwick,” Lisa said.
“That’s one heck of a carrot to dangle in front of someone like me!”
Challenge acceptedWhile ending her career was a blow – she enjoyed three decades in IT and service management at the likes of Tui, Capita and Deutsche Bank – university had been a lifelong ambition.
“I grew up in Chelmsley Wood and went to Whitesmore School, known as one of the rougher schools at the time.
“I did well and wanted to go to uni, but I suppose I wasn’t in an environment where that happened very often.
“My sister stayed in education, and I was offered places on a nursing course at the hospital and at a catering college, but I was encouraged to go into work.
“I hated not being able to go to university – it’s why I encouraged my own two daughters to try it, one of whom is going on to do a master’s in Bristol.”
At the age of 50, Gateway gave Lisa her dream opportunity to experience higher education, albeit around 30 years later than she originally envisioned.
“It was amazing,” she said.
“My tutor understood what being a mature student is all about because he didn’t start university until he was 29, and I met some lovely people, two of whom I’m now close friends with.”
Feeling right at home
Lisa thrived, securing a spot on a BA (Hons) Social Studies degree at the University of Warwick, where she now studies full time.
To say it’s been transformational would be an understatement.
“Being a mature student feels amazing. I love it so much. Every time I come to campus, I’m dancing!"
“Being a mature student feels amazing" Lisa said. "I love it so much. Every time I come to campus, I’m dancing!"
“My daughter did Sociology at GCSE and A-Level and I thought it sounded amazing.
“She used to talk to me about things on her course like race relations, which is something that’s always fascinated me, so now to be studying something similar myself is great.
“The younger students have been brilliantly respectful and treated me like anyone else on the course.
“I bring a different experience to our seminars because I’ve lived a life before university – I can share my knowledge of things from before they were born and learn from their perspectives, too.”
Overcoming the obstacles
Lisa still lives with pain and her condition requires regular infusions.
She’s also facing potential surgery, may be forced to give up driving and could lose sight in her left eye.
But by adjusting her study habits and staying flexible, Lisa’s determined to not let anything get in her way.
“I've never had so much support"
“I’ve never had so much support”, she said.
“When I started the course, I told the university’s wellbeing team about my health and they encouraged me to apply for the Disabled Students’ Allowance.
“That’s given me access to so much equipment, software and even a taxi allowance for up to seven journeys a year when I’m in too much pain to drive in.”
Lisa’s mental health has improved drastically following her diagnosis – something she attributes to her studies.
“For the first time since maybe 2014, I feel like I’m where I’m meant to be,” she said.
“I suppose I didn’t realise how bad my mental health was until it got better.”
A bright future
Lisa is preparing to give refuge to a Ukrainian man with cystic fibrosis – “I’ve helped raise £4,300 to help the people over there, so this is the next thing I can do” – and is looking ahead to postgraduate life.
“My degree ends in 2024 and I then want to do an MA and a PhD, possibly in Sociology,” she said.
“It’s funny; my school performed The Jackdaw of Rheims on stage at Warwick Arts Centre when I was 10, and now I’m back here as a student all these years later!”
Lisa is keen to inspire others considering becoming a mature student.
“Don’t ever think you can’t do it because you’re too old, too ill, can’t drive… there’s always a way"
“Don’t ever think you can’t do it because you’re too old, too ill, can’t drive… there’s always a way,” she said.
“My mum and I used to speak about going to New York.
“Her line was always ‘when I’ve retired’, but she died before we had chance to go.
“Now I’ll never let life pass me by.”