COVID-19 prompts wave of mature students to enrol in tertiary education

COVID-19 appears to have prompted a wave of mature students to enrol in tertiary education.

Those who have lost their jobs are learning they're never too old to go back to school.

Paul Gibson is picking up the tools to rebuild his career. After 15 years in an office, Gibson's work ran dry when COVID-19 hit - forcing him out of a job and onto the benefit.

"[There were] a few sleepless nights but other than that gotta put one foot in front of the other and starting making some decisions," he says.

One of those decisions was to embark on a carpentry course at Whitirea Polytechnic - spurred on by the Government announcing it would pick up the tab for trades training.

"It's just nice to get up in the morning and have something to do with my day," he says.

Whitirea's seen a wave of enrolments since the Government's Trades Training Programme was announced in June, and their waiting lists are longer than they've ever seen before.

It isn't just trades - Massey University's seen a 41 percent increase in mature students studying in semester 2, compared to last year. That includes 43-year-old Michelle Noordermeer.

After 20 years working in aviation, her job at Auckland Airport was disestablished due to COVID-19.

"I didn't want redundancy to be my story," she says.

So she is studying a Master of Business Administration, which she says is already paying off.

"I just secured a new role so it's going to be a really big year ahead," she says.

Universities predict mature student numbers will continue to increase as unemployment rises along with the fear of unemployment.

"People well along in their careers are feeling that anxiety," Massey University head of institute Professor Ted Zorn says.

And even though being the oldest in the class has earnt Gibson the odd nickname - 'granddad' - he is learning that age is just a number.