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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Heather Sorella, Education

The Challenges and Barriers Facing Mature Women Entering Higher Education

Date & time
Thursday, April 4, 2024
12 p.m. – 3 p.m.

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Nadeem Butt


Faubourg Ste-Catherine Building
1610 St. Catherine W.
Room 5.315

Wheel chair accessible


When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


When adult learners decide to return to higher education, whether to seek career opportunities or for personal growth, they often experience challenges. Since the 1970s, mature women who have decided to return to post-secondary education have faced more pronounced obstacles due to the multiplicity of women’s roles, a lack of social support, and the challenges of assimilating into an environment designed for younger, traditional students. This dissertation explores the barriers mature 21st-century women face when returning to post-secondary education. It contributes to the otherwise sparse research on the undervaluing of mature women, providing updated findings on today’s mature female students. The data in this research includes narrative interviews grounded on specific themes and driven by personal conversations with the participants. Due to the recurrent themes described by the participants, a general inductive method was used through a narrative analysis framework. The findings were structured around three main pillars: situational barriers, dispositional barriers, and institutional barriers. The exploration of the situational barriers considered the personal obstacles related to domestic relationships and family obligations. The second pillar’s investigation of the dispositional barriers explicitly focused on the participants’ attitudes and perceptions regarding gender, age, socioeconomic levels, and prior educational experiences. Finally, the consideration of institutional barriers examined the lack of visibility and equity provided by institutions of higher learning to non-traditional, mature female students.

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