A recent Universities UK report has suggested that British universities must offer more courses suitable for people aged 50 and above.
The study, ‘Active Ageing and Universities’, proposes that as the baby boom generation fast approaches the age of retirement, there should be greater incentives offered to those in their twilight years to regain access to higher education.
The report supported its findings with the illuminating statistic that by 2026 around 20% of the British population will be over 65, while the number of part-time students over the age of 40 has increased by nearly 60% in the last decade.
Indeed, the most recent UCAS figures reveal a 63.4% increase in the number of mature student applicants for undergraduate courses.
The report stresses the importance of universities widening their participation agendas to incorporate all ages, and explains that such a move would be widely beneficial to higher education and British society as a whole.
Chief executive of Universities UK, Nicola Dandridge, insisted the notion that people stopped making a useful contribution to society once they reached the age of 60 or 65 was outdated.
“We are facing a situation where older people are living longer and healthier lives and have, as a consequence, a huge amount to contribute. Universities have a significant part to play in harnessing that contribution,” she said.
“Of course, proposals to support older people into universities must be considered in light of the current funding climate facing the sector. On the other hand, to ignore the potential contribution older people can make to our society and economy is short-sighted, and universities have a central role to play in supporting and reinforcing their contribution.”
In 2000, World War II refugee Bernard Herzberg became the oldest ever university graduate in the UK, when he completed a German Literature BA at the University of London at 90 years of age. He went on to complete an MA in 2005, refuting the belief that OAPs are too old to pursue academic study.
However, some of the views expressed on online forums seem less sympathetic towards the report. In light of the record number of applicants for university places this year, one person argued, “It is morally objectionable to allow graduates to take a second undergraduate degree when so many people are waiting for their first chance.”
Another bluntly stated: “I am not sure how much society will benefit from supporting a mature student who might drop dead right after graduation anyway.”