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Education News

The oldest master: student who left school at 14 gets his third degree at 90

Former MI6 man takes British record for oldest graduate from 89-year-old 'youngster'

Bertie Gladwin was just looking for something to defy the onset of senility. He ended up becoming Britain's oldest recorded graduate at the age of 90, having left school at 14 to work as a greengrocer's delivery boy.

The country's previous oldest graduate was a mere 89 ("a youngster", according to Bertie) although a 96-year-old has graduated in philosophy in China.

Mr Gladwin graduated from Buckingham University in March with a Masters degree in Intelligence History, specialising on Bletchley Park, alongside his wife, Wendy, aged 79, who also gained a diploma in the same course at the same time.

"It was fun," he said. "I enjoyed it – although the most difficult bit was getting to grips with the computer and the internet for my essays. I needed help with that." Mr Gladwin is already the holder of two degrees from the Open University – a BA in psychology and a BSc in molecular biology, both of which he studied for while in his sixties.

This time round though he had a lot more contact with fellow students – many of whom were in the early 20s. "They'd invite me to all their things socially," he said, "but I decided I'd miss out on Rag Week. I still keep in contact with some by email."

Mr Gladwin remains tempted by the idea of further study – his interest would be aroused by a PhD in philosophy. "They call it a MPhil, though, now, and I'm not so keen on that," he said.

"Also, it's a three-year course. Wendy said the MA would be a good way to round off my academic career and would give me a good sense of accomplishment."

Bertie's advice to anyone considering a degree is to go for it at any age. "It is never too late to learn," he said.

Professor Anthony Glees, head of the MA degree course, said: "Bertie relishes political debate and certainly knew how to stir up a storm in seminars."

Despite leaving school in the mid-1930s for his delivery job, most of his working life was spent working for MI6 as an electronics engineer. "Visiting dodgy states and setting up alternative communications systems for the British embassies so they couldn't be overheard," he said.

He had developed a love of radio communications during the war when he served with the Royal Air Force. After that he worked for Marconi before heading to the Foreign Office.

He still enjoys spending time as a radio ham sending Morse messages to people as far away as Japan and Australia from the study of his home in Nash, near Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. It was his experiences in MI6 which, he believes, held him in good stead for the MA course.

He never served at Bletchley Park – although he did work as its successor, Hanslope Park, for some time. For his dissertation, he did a 10,000-word essay on the role of the special operations executive in France during the Second World War – for which he gained a distinction.

He thinks that most of his twentysome- thing fellow students will be seeking a job with MI6 now. "Anybody who finished the course and came away with an MA would be very well thought of by MI6," he said. "There was a lot about terrorism and that sort of stuff on the course."