A recent study conducted by Victoria University aimed to gain better understanding why older people decide to study later in life.
People aged 60 plus represented a very small proportion of students at Victoria University who came into their study – only one in every 300; 21 were interviewed in depth, with ages ranging from 60 to 82.
Why university study?
Previous education, their careers and gender all had a part to play in the reasoning why they decided to go to university.
Many of the 60-plus interviewees in the Victoria University study, who had not previously been at university expressed a long-held desire for study at this level, and for those who had been before it was an obvious choice for learning. Several people had tried distance learning but found it isolating and others were not satisfied by community-based classes.
For some interviewees the answer was a desire to pursue an interest of very long standing – either work-related, a hobby, or an aspect of personal experience. For some interviewees, the desire to study arose out of a comparatively recent interest. For several women, their most recent period of study represented a natural progression from earlier academic work.
Did study just replace working?
Did it provide a substitute for paid work? Several of those interviewed had very structured lives, of which study was only one part. Others were clear that study provided structure in their lives. Deirdre had a work schedule, with breaks to buy a paper, do the crossword, meditate, walk and have a snooze. Some of the interviewees clearly saw university study as a job substitute and a means of giving structure to their lives
The concept of study as a substitute for work can be carried further. Where people filled their lives with activity in retirement, they actually granted themselves “holidays” from it. Like paid work, the demands of study, even though freely chosen, can become onerous.
Feelings about University
Several were very unsure of themselves and their abilities at first. Frequently this was related to their age and the feeling that they would not “fit in” with the school-leavers at Victoria University.
As the older people moved into their courses, many of their fears proved unfounded. They adjusted and began to enjoy their study and interactions with younger and mature students.
Despite barriers and difficulties, for the majority of respondents university study ultimately became a source of confidence, respect and credibility and a boost to their identity as retired people. Even those who had lacked self-confidence initially began to feel they were proving themselves.
For more information about this study, check out Age Concern’s blog series on University study: