Will pensioners become NEET?

Here’s a scenario. Retired people who are fit for paid work will be treated as being NEET – not in employment, education or training – and required to get jobs.

No-one’s pushing this as a policy but David Willetts, the universities minister, has been in the news this week encouraging older people to return to higher education to keep their skills updated for employment throughout their sixties and beyond. (See: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/9884301/Over-60s-are-told-go-back-to-university-and-retrain.html)

He made the comments after a recent government report said that the UK’s future economic success will depend on older workers’ skills and contributions. Campaigners for older people aren’t convinced that many will want to commit to degree-level courses and to the possibility of student debt, but figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the average life span in England and Wales increased by around 10 years for a man and 8 years for a woman over the 50 years from 1960 to 2010. The most common age at death in England and Wales in 2010 was 85 for men and 89 for women.

There many issues to think about as people are living longer and technology is changing the ways that we live, learn, work and socialise. Will 60-year-olds be expected to train for extended careers – competing against younger people who aren’t in employment, education or training – or for long, active and healthy retirements?

Joyce Patrick, featured in a past edition of WEA News, learnt to read at the age of 83.

Joyce Patrick, featured in a past edition of WEA News, learnt to read at the age of 83.

Willetts’ proposal is set against a current decline in the number of older students in higher education. A recent report, ‘Older People’s Learning in 2012: A Survey’ by Professor Stephen McNair, Senior Research Fellow at NIACE, found that the proportion of older learners (aged 50+) studying in further education colleges and universities had dropped significantly between 2005 and 2012, from 21% to 9% in colleges and from 14% to 8% in universities.

The report is available at: http://shop.niace.org.uk/older-peoples-learning-2012-summary.html

Stephen McNair reported that more than a quarter of older people said that learning had helped them to pass on skills and knowledge to others. 14% reported ‘Getting involved in society’ as a benefit and 13% cited the value of ‘improving my health’. ‘Getting involved in the digital world’ was a benefit for 10% of respondents in his research and significant numbers reported that it had helped them to manage caring roles and to cope with life crises.

Despite these benefits, older people are much less likely than younger people to be learning. Only 20% of over-50s are ‘learners’, compared to 40% of the adult population as a whole. The proportion falls to only 7% of those aged 75 and over.

older

The WEA is not a university but we have a long tradition of attracting students of all ages into high quality adult education covering a wide range of courses. 37,749 WEA students in 2011-12 were aged 65 or older and a recent analysis of our student data showed 11 active learners who were 100 years old or older.

It’s worth noting the 96.3% retention rate for students aged 65 or older in our part-time, community-based courses last year. Their 96.2% success rate shows that age didn’t stop them meeting their learning aims.

Many of our active volunteers are older people who are contributing to community life in their neighbourhoods. Audrey Constable, 77, voluntary chair of the WEA’s Great Missenden, Prestwood and Wendover Branch is good example. Audrey, a piano teacher, left school without going on to further education immediately. Taking part in a course with the Association in 1970 encouraged her to do a degree in philosophy and linguistics. She says that the WEA changed her life. Michael Davis, 79, a retired surveyor of Prestwood, has been involved in the same branch for 10 years. He says, “We all have a good common interest and enjoy the group learning. It is worthwhile.”

Older people are often overlooked in public debates about education so it’s refreshing that David Willetts has highlighted over-60s and their potential.

What do you think about education’s role in older people’s professional, social and personal well-being? What about pensioners’ rights and responsibilities compared to younger people?

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About Ann Walker
Adult education and lifelong learning specialist and campaigner. LinkedIn: http://linkd.in/1GI0QK1

5 Responses to Will pensioners become NEET?

  1. Val Woodward says:

    This also opens up, yet again, what sort of learning is valued. The press reports seem to suggest that only ‘upskilling’ will be valued and speculates that this is likely to only be in IT as most of us older folk have a lifetime of experience and expertise that younger folk could learn from.

  2. Lynn Hull says:

    The idea has a lot of validity as there is a often a lot of vigour and rigour left in those who have had interesting working lives that could be a real contribution not only to the economy but also to society. As always it will depend on the attitude of mind both by those in power who are seeking to make the changes (if it’s more of the same old, same old perspective it’s less likely to work) and how we develop the attitudes and expectations of those who are viewed as ‘senior’ and how they see their lives stretching out before them.

  3. joaniepthemadhatter says:

    It is vital for those who want to continue to work to be afforded every opportunity to do so, not only to benefit themselves but also in order to be able to pass on valuable knowledge and experience to our younger generations – BUT – one can’t help but wonder how our youngsters are ever going to gain any experience themselves if the job market is swamped by people who could be enjoying a healthy retirement – after all, there are more ways to pass on knowledge – volunteering comes to mind – I have been a volunteer now for the last 8 years and I consider myself fortunate to be in a situation that enables me to pass on what I have learnt to others, without depriving our younger generation of possible job prospects! I just can’t see how we can justify the fact that many of our younger generation spend years at university to gain the vital qualifications needed for work and end up thousands of pounds in debt only to be left without gainful employment because our older generation are expected to work more years than most of them would like to! My son left university in 2010 and has spent the last 3 years living and teaching in China because there were no decent job opportunities for him here in the UK! I know where he would rather be…

  4. joaniepthemadhatter says:

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