Invasion of the wrinklies

Universities UK is calling on the UK’s higher education industry to open up to the over 50 age group. Why?

Well Universities UK, an organisation that describes itself as “the essential voice of UK universities”, has gone to a lot of trouble to create a serious report on this very subject. It talks about enhancing employment prospects for the over 50s. It mentions such laudable aims as improving social inclusion and the health of the over 50s. The BBC’s coverage of this report even talks about courses in environmental citizenship.

Nicola Dandridge is the Chief Executive of Universities UK. Photo: Universities UK

Frankly, I am deeply suspicious of the whole idea of higher education courses tailored for the over 50s age group. The over 50s represent a growing subsection of the unemployed. Due to their age it is harder to find a new job. Encouraging them to attend higher education courses, especially in such subjects as starting your own business, might be seen as an underhand way of reducing the unemployment figures. It might also raise false hopes concerning their hunt for employment.

The Universities UK report mentions the issue of social inclusion. As a mature student, 42 years old, I am painfully aware that I am not always a welcome addition to the student body. What kind of welcome could an invasion of the over 50s expect to receive at any university in the UK? Would the majority of the student body want a sudden influx of the over 50s?

But there is another issue. Who is going to pay for this extension of the educational system? The economy is still in a very bad way. Universities are facing swingeing cuts to funding. Student finances are under pressure. There is no slack in the budget to pay for this extension of the educational franchise. Is it possible that funds will be transferred from one group of learners to another?

Nobody can deny that education is of great benefit to us all. Not just as a method to acquire commercially valuable skills but also as a way to expand our intellectual horizons. Yet I fear this proposed redistribution of the educational wealth might be a step too far in these recessionary times.

One Response to Invasion of the wrinklies

  1. Simon Harvey says:

    I agree that full-time mature students are not necessarily welcomed by students in their teens and early twenties. As a mature student, the feeling is sometimes mutual! However, there is plenty of capacity within a university to provide short courses for the ‘older generation’.

    At Lincoln, the academic year starts at the end of September and finishes in April. This leaves nearly five months when the facilities are not being used. With a clear reluctance from students and student unions to move to a three semester sytem (akin to school terms), universities need to find a way to make that spare capacity pay, especially with the proposed cuts in government funding.