It’s never too late to learn

South Leeds adults share their journeys of lifelong learning

Based in the Arnold and Marjorie Ziff building at the University of Leeds, the Lifelong Learning Centre (LLC) offers flexible degrees for adult learners, many of whom have had long periods out of education. Although there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ mature student, starting university later in life can be a different experience than that of an eighteen-year-old and the LLC provides a range of opportunities for people to ‘dip a toe in’ to see what it’s like to study as an adult before committing to a course. Free information sessions, tasters, short courses and an annual summer school allow people to try out learning in an informal and fun way.

The LLC also supports mature students to develop the skills to study and the confidence to fulfil their potential. Locals, Zahra Bibi and William Hunter, have both studied Child and Family Studies part-time and reflected on what they have gained from returning to study as adults. Zahra completed a Foundation Degree in 2018 and plans to return in September to complete her BA (Hons).

Having a full degree will give me many different career opportunities on top of the ones I have since gaining my foundation degree. When I started the degree, I was a teaching assistant; by the end of the foundation degree I was Director of Safeguarding in a secondary school and currently work as a lead Safeguarding and Family Support practitioner in Bradford council.

Looking back, Zahra had not considered that university might be a viable option:

“I am the second generation of South Asian migrants, higher education was not supported or encouraged. Going to university was a dream of mine but I thought it was too late, I was too old, my time had passed, but then I discovered the LLC.”

She is surprised at the number of benefits from studying and how these affect her life in different ways:

“The degree has brought me so much more than just a career; it has given me financial independence and life choices which for many women from all backgrounds is the ultimate gift. It has put me on a level playing field with my counterparts. It has given me a sense of honour, pride, and equality. Some people may say second chances are rare. I believe if you dream it, you can achieve it. If you meet the right people along the way, your journey can become easier.”

William is currently in the last year of a Child and Families Studies degree at the Lifelong Learning Centre. Reflecting on his earlier experiences of learning, he shared:

“I grew up in south Leeds, education was never encouraged or promoted, I was always led to believe that university was only for ‘middle class’ folk, not for people like me. That was until I discovered the LLC and quickly learned that university is created and available to everyone, no matter your socio-economic background or age.”

Thinking about the importance of support for busy mature students and the journey he has been on, William shared:

“University has not only been an academic journey of professional growth, it has also been a personal journey of growth, it has helped shape how I view and interact with the world; it has helped me gain perspective, emotional maturity and self-awareness that has given me the confidence to walk into rooms I thought I’d never walk into. Throughout my university journey, the LLC has provided me with the tools and support, making study achievable whilst juggling a full-time job.”

The confidence he has gained has led to a fulfilling career, where William can fulfil his dream of making a difference:

“I believe that if we change our mind-set, we can change our reality – I am an example of this. I am now working for the Ministry of Justice, which enables me to use my lived experiences and my academic knowledge to do what I have always had a passion to do – to be of service to others, with the aim of impacting and supporting others to make positive changes in their lives.”

As William says:

“I would thoroughly encourage anyone who is pondering the thought of higher education to pop into the Lifelong Learning Centre for a friendly and informative chat with one of their course tutors – if I can do it, so can you.”

Contact the Lifelong Learning Centre to book a one-to-one appointment for advice and guidance, by calling (0113) 343 1770 or email


This post was written by Olivia Garvey

Photo: William Hunter and Zahra Bibi

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