Targets urged to bring more pensioners into education: Ministers face call to double numbers of older people on courses as poll shows fewer than 1 in 10 take learning option after retirement

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PLANS to double the number of pensioners in education within the next 18 months will be put to ministers this week. Targets have already been set to raise the number of young people in training and education, and these could now be extended to the elderly.

Tim Boswell, minister for higher and further education, will be told on Thursday at a conference to mark Adult Learners' Week that education is vital to keep an ageing population fit and active.

However, a MORI survey to be published tomorrow will show that few people choose to return to the classroom when they retire. Other recent research has shown that while more than one third of people in their thirties study either part- time or full-time, fewer than one in ten people over 65 do so.

Alan Tuckett, director of the National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education, which is organising Adult Learners' Week, hopes to launch new formal targets later this year after negotiations with government officials.

He would like to double the number of over-65s who are in education by the end of next year, taking the figure to about 18 per cent. Without such stimulation, people cease to be active far more rapidly, he said.

'There is a danger of slipping from the third age to the fourth, in which people stumble from bed to the television and back again.

'We end up paying for that through the hospital and the social worker, and in an ageing society that is not good news,' he said.

The number of older people who attend part-time classes is thought to have dropped in recent years because of cuts in funding for courses which do not lead to formal qualifications.

A report published last year by the Carnegie Enquiry into the Third Age showed that people who received the least education when they were young were also the least likely to go back to studying after they retired.

Just 13 per cent of adults who left school before they were 16 were studying, or had been recently, researchers for the inquiry found, compared to 45 per cent of those who had stayed in education until they were 18 or more.

A number of activities will be held this week to celebrate Adult Learners' week, including two BBC broadcasts as part of a 'second chance' initiative.

The Department of Employment is running a special helpline for people thinking of returning to learning. Information is available by telephoning 0800 100900.