You're never too old for student life

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The Independent Online
GOING BACK to college leads to a long and happy old age, according to a report published this week.

Campaigners with the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (Niace) called for a huge expansion in courses for older people and said the stereotype of arts, crafts and holiday French for OAPs should be swept away.

They said demand for courses would boom as the number of pensioners increased, and claimed that keeping people's minds fit and active would cut hospital and community care bills.

"Older people represent a wasted untapped resource which could be unleashed with more and better learning opportunities," said Jim Soulsby, author of the Niace report Older and Bolder.

"We would like to see a situation where the familiar retirement age of 60 or 65 is blurred so people have the opportunity to do work that they want, whatever their age."

The report, part of a national campaign to encourage more people to sign up at college, is being launched at the same time as the Government announces a pounds 50m investment in careers and training advice for the over- 18s.

At present careers centres deal mainly with teenagers leaving school or college. Ministers want to expand the advice available as part of Tony Blair's promise to bring an extra 500,000 people into college and university by 2002.

The Niace report said that it was essential to increase the number and variety of courses available for the elderly as the number of people in older age groups increased. More training and education for the elderly would help them to stay independent, or even help them to go back into paid or voluntary work, the report said.

Dotie Russell, 69, a retired civil servant, is setting up her own mail order fashion business after enrolling on a three-month women into business course near her home in Tidworth, Wiltshire.

She won the national senior learner of the year award for her work.

She said: "I was sitting around at home doing nothing.

"The first year of retirement is marvellous because you can do exactly what you want, but after a time you find you no longer have the same friends and there's nothing to aim for. Going on the course was absolutely marvellous."

Mr Soulsby said: "There will be a dramatic expansion in demand over the next five years, because the number of people aged 50-plus will increase and they will be better-educated and more demanding. Doing some sort of learning in later life is life-changing and creates opportunities for people.

"We always say `use it or lose it'. Physical activity helps keep you active, but mental activity is just as important.

"People say that getting involved in some activity gives them more feelings of self-worth and well-being. There are the beginnings of research from America and Australia to prove this."