Never too old to learn

Never too old to learn

Studying for the over 60s is beneficial for so many reasons and not only for improving skills needed in the modern workplace. Learning in your more mature years keeps your brain active. Discussing ideas and socialising are such an important part of the university experience and really helps maintain mental stimulation. Studying is also an effective way for the over 60s to tackle the spectre of isolation, loneliness and depression, which can accompany older ages.

Often the older the student, the more they appreciate the opportunity to study. Those students who left school at a young age and missed out on university aged 18 are often much more enthusiastic about education. Moreover, it is not just the older students that benefit. Younger students frequently say that their learning is enriched by the contributions in the classroom from mature students who will have considerable life and work experience.

Student loans

Recently changes in government funding for Higher Education means that the over 60s can now apply for student loans. Mr Willetts, who was the Universities Minister until July last year, said the age limit on student loans to cover tuition fees had been lifted, making a degree course ‘great value’ for older people. This would help them cope with the pressure they would face to keep up to date as they worked well into their 60s, he suggested.

Courses at the University of London’s School of Advanced Study have proved very popular with retirees seeking to take up a fulfilling academic challenge. One student, Elizabeth Addlington, enrolled for a Masters Degree and felt that her masters course ‘totally transformed’ her view of the world and her city, London, in particular.

She tells us “I didn’t necessarily want another degree. What I wanted was a rigorous, academically based intellectual challenge. The local history course had made me realise that my interest was not in any one period or type of history. What intrigued me was how historians think and develop new understanding of social and political change across the centuries. The MA seemed a perfect way to explore these issues further.

Part-time student

“I enrolled as a part-time student. There was no hurry and I wanted to get as much value as possible from the course. The twelve students in the class, with their differing experiences and expertise, were able to contribute their insights to the enrichment of us all. They included one from Canada, one from Japan, recent graduates, employed people and three who were retired.

“The biggest challenge for me was learning how to integrate into a community of historians. I had to adjust not only my writing, but also my thinking to a new milieu. Initially, I was uncertain how much of my 1960s study of sociology and anthropology was relevant to what I was now expected to do. Support from other students, and especially from some of the tutors, helped to show me that history could comfortably encompass approaches and ideas from other disciplines and this raised my confidence in my ability to contribute and achieve.”

Of course it does not have to be a University degree course. There are plenty of other opportunities to take up further or higher education from the University of the Third Age, courses at your local college, or even online. Evening classes are popular and cover a huge variety of subjects from the academic to practical training.

Learning from people outside your age bracket can offer other unique benefits with older people learning from younger generations and vice versa. Intergenerational friendships bring together different perspectives on life and opportunities to learn new skills and swap experiences for the benefit of all.

Learning goals

While the younger generation has copious skills to pass on regarding information technology and access to online research facilities, it has been pointed out that some lack the social skills to succeed in life. Older students can refine the art of face to face communication and help build their confidence in personal interaction. The classroom or tutor group is a great leveller and a chance to mix all ages, social and ethnic groups with a view to achieving mutual learning goals.

With access to funding easier and grants available it is a good time to take up the challenge of lifelong learning.