A grey revolution is about to take place in Britain's higher education institutions from September, when part-time students become eligible for loans to cover the cost of their courses for the first time.
Under the new rules, there will be no age limit as to who can apply – and the students will not have to repay loans until they are earning £21,000 a year.
Will Swann, director of students at the Open University, is urging older students to apply on the grounds it is unlikely that they will ever have to repay their loans. If they are retired, there is little chance that they will be earning more than £21,000 a year.
However, he insisted it would be "good value for money" to encourage more elderly students to apply.
He told a conference that a rise in elderly applications was likely to be one of the "unintended consequences" of the new policy.
"I don't think they could have put an age limit on it," he said. "That would be against the law.
"Research has shown that if people keep their brains active in their old age they are far more likely to stay well and fit,"he said.
If students are studying for their first degree they will be eligible for a loan but not if they are taking a lesser or equivalent qualification to one they already have.The loans will be up to £6, 750 a year – the maximum that universities can charge for a part-time course.