Transformations and Self Discovery: Stories of Women Returning to Education

By Cathy Stone and Sarah O’Shea.

Published by The Learner, a book imprint by Common Ground Publishing

Format Price
Book: Electronic $US15.00
Book: Print $US40.00

Over the past two decades a global movement towards improving access to higher education for a much wider student cohort has been growing. New pathways into university have been forged with an increased focus on encouraging people from many different backgrounds to enter and succeed at university. The typical student is no longer necessarily a young school-leaver whose parents have also been to university. Increasingly, university students are the first in their families, and perhaps first amongst their friends, to be there. Just as often, students are coming to university later in life, carrying with them considerable responsibilities. For women, this can be particularly problematic as they face not only the inevitable rigours of study, but also the expectations that they must not neglect their ‘normal’ family responsibilities. This book tells the stories of seven Australian women, each of whom has come to university in their thirties or forties as the ‘first generation’ within their families to do so. Narrated, in their own words, their stories reveal how and why they made the decision to come to university, what helps and hinders their studies, and how their lives are changing as a result. What emerges is a powerful message about the transformative powers of education and the inherent value in encouraging and supporting women to discover their academic potential and achieve their goals. The stories of these women touch upon universal themes, which will be of particular interest to other women contemplating further education, as well as to academics and educators across a range of teaching and learning contexts.

Keywords: Education, Women's Education

Book: Electronic (PDF File; 5.219MB). Book: Print (Paperback). Published by The Learner, a book imprint by Common Ground Publishing, Champaign, Illinois.

Dr Cathy Stone

Conjoint Senior Lecturer, School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Newcastle, Australia

Dr. Cathy Stone is a social worker with extensive experience in university counselling, teaching and student services’ management in the Australian Higher Education Sector. Currently, Cathy is the Director of the Student Experience Unit with Open Universities Australia and is a Conjoint Senior Lecturer with the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle, Australia.

Dr Sarah O’Shea

Senior Lecturer in Adult, Vocational and Higher Education, University of Wollongong, Australia

Dr. Sarah O’Shea has taught within the Australian adult education sector for nearly two decades, teaching in a variety of contexts including training organisations, TAFE colleges and higher education institutions. Currently, Sarah is a Senior Lecturer in Adult, Vocational and Higher Education at the University of Wollongong, Australia.


Transformations and Self Discovery: Stories of Women Returning to Education By Cathy Stone and Sarah O’Shea.
By Elizabeth Christopher

The publisher's 'blurb' for this fascinating book gives the impression that the contents will be of interest only to women. It is true the authors focus on the difficulties women experience in returning to study, and how they overcame them; but the writers'comments would apply also to many men - especially the point that further education can lead to major life changes and improved employment prospects through empowerment, independence and confidence in newly acquired abilities and knowledge.

The book consists of personal narratives by seven women. They are by turns charming("...and those kids - one of them is four - asks me 'Are you finished your big school yet?'It’s like waves of inspiration"); touching ("I had started at university...and I think I was too scared to stop"); entertaining (" husband..he’s been going around putting [my certificate]up on the wall, he’s so proud of me. It’s so funny; it’s so good to see")and inspirational ("I loved it! [TAFE Diploma] It was a real culture change… and ever since then I sort
of had a yearning, looking for something…").

Stone and O'Shea have adroitly 'book-ended' these personal accounts with multi-disciplinary theoretical concepts of feminism and post-modernism; and maybe it is carping to suggest that a wider framework would include perhaps more reference to programs such as the experience+initiative that supports all mature-age people to participate in the workforce ( However they do refer to previous studies of experiences of women and men returning to study as mature-age students; and to a global movement to address inequality of access and participation in higher education.

It is a real tribute to the overall quality and readability of the book that it leaves readers wanting to know more about educational opportunities for people of all ages and both genders. And it is exciting to learn how seven women overcame such huge practical problems as well as negative perceptions of age, personal criticism and low self-worth.

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