Word of mouth: What the Danes can teach us about education for pensioners

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Third Age schools

If David Blunkett, our much esteemed Education Secretary, really wants to put lifelong learning on the map, he should pop over to Denmark for a few days. Alternatively, he need only pop as far as Milton Under Wychwood, a pretty village in West Oxfordshire, where Tony Butterfield can tell him all he needs to know about Denmark's Pensioners Folk High Schools. Mr Butterfield, who is a freelance educationist and trains teachers in drama and the like, spent some time studying these remarkable schools dotted about that small, flat and spotlessly clean country. The 19th century Danish do-gooder, Pastor Grundtvig, had the idea of starting residential centres for adults in mid-career. There they could refresh themselves by studying some liberal subject within politics, sports or the arts. There are now 108 of them.

Of these, some specialise in a variety of fields. And four of them specialise in dealing with senior citizens. Retired doctors work alongside retired bus drivers, and men and women as old as 90-plus enjoy courses ranging from 12 days to three weeks. Ceramics, music or journalism, and yes, even computing, are among the many subjects on offer. And there are plenty of social activities, too, including an on-site swimming pool. The cost? Pensioners pay no more than their pension for the duration of their stay, for which they have the course, board and comfortable lodging. There are no extras. I suggest that, if he can make it, Mr Blunkett should keep 9 November free. That's when Tony Butterfield has convened a meeting on the subject. Diane Norton of Age Concern will be there, as will Kjeld Sondergaard, principal of one of the Danish Pensioners Folk schools, and six heads of adult education colleges in this country. With 1999 having been designated Year of the Elderly, could we not show an example by piloting our very own school for pensioners?

Musical cheers

What is it that induces a child to take up a musical instrument - other than a parent's, er, persuasion? And, having learned to play an instrument, what makes that same child give it up? A research project is trying to find the answers to these questions. The project, which goes under the lengthy title of Social and Motivational Factors Influencing Young People's Participation and Achievement in Music (phew!) is conducted by a team of Keele University psychologists, and has the backing of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.

Through the wardrobe

Now here's something to delight C S Lewis fans. From 24 October, the London Toy & Model Museum is to stage a World of Narnia exhibition to commemorate the centenary of the author who held the distinction of being a fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge, as well as an honorary fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford. The exhibition, on until next April, will allow visitors to enter the enchanted world of Narnia through a wardrobe to meet the characters created by Lewis, and by the illustrations of Pauline Baynes: the White Witch, Aslan the lion, Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy, and Mr Tumnus. Correspondence between Lewis and his many friends, including fellow author J R R Tolkien, will be on show, as will audio, TV and film adaptations of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Extracts from Richard Attenborough's weepy film, Shadowlands, based on Lewis's marriage to Joy Gresham, may also be seen.

Mile-long Brooks

The new vice-chancellor of Wolverhampton University has started as he intends to go on: by walking a mile each day round and round the hallowed grounds of the local football stadium. Professor John Brooks, 40, who was assistant principal of Sheffield Hallam University, has quite a following of academics who wish to remain in trim shape and have joined him for his daily mile. Brooks, a physicist and engineer, succeeded the colourful Professor Mick Harrison, who was director of Wolverhampton Polytechnic from 1985, and became its first vice-chancellor when it became a university in 1992. He always insisted on being called Mick and couldn't stand it when hacks named him Michael. He explained: "Whenever my mother called me Michael I knew I was in trouble, but when she called me Mick, I knew I was safe."

Bradford moves south

For the second time in as many years, Bradford is moving to London. Why? Because it believes national journalists can't be bothered to traipse oop t'north for stories, so it might as well fetch 'em down to t'journalists. Last year, the University of Bradford, plus a large selection of other Bradfordian business people, held a news-filled press reception at the Science Museum. This year's event is being staged on 23 October, at London's Post Office Tower. "North of Watford Two", the name given to this cheerful annual shindig, will feature some of the university's finest research - like its cheap method of purifying even the filthiest water to drinking- water standards, and its microcomputing organ which is due to perform in Oxford's Sheldonian Theatre.

And they'll bring along Chris Greener, who is more than 7ft 6ins tall, and has his shirts tailor-made by the firm that provided Field Marshal Montgomery's - yes Monty's - pyjamas. Where's the firm? In Bradford, where else? Regretfully, I won't be able to make it this time. I shall be about as far away from the BT Tower as is terrestrially possible - in New Zealand. Who knows? I might even let you in on what I'm up to down there.

And finally...

Overheard during the recent HEERA/CASE conference at Queen's University, Belfast: "The only thing people seem to know about Brunel University is that it's at Bristol." (It is, of course, at Uxbridge, within earshot of Heathrow Airport - and a number of its academics want to change the name, if only to avoid such confusion.)