On Campus

Older people's education neglected

In the UK, only 1 percent of the education budget is spent on the older population

A study released in the UK yesterday points out that current education policies fall far short of addressing learning needs across the lifespan:

Older people must be given more chances to learn if they are to contribute to society rather than be a financial burden, according to a new study on population published today. The current approach which concentrates on younger people and on skills for employment is inadequate to meet the challenges of demographic change, it says. Only 1% of the education budget is currently spent on the oldest third of the population.

The challenges include the fact that most people can expect to spend a third of their lives in retirement, that there are now more people over 59 than under 16 and that 11.3 million people are over state pension age. Life expectancy for a 65-year-old is now 85 for men and 88 for women.

With our population aging in Canada as well, there are economic-utilitarian reasons for greater investments in adult learning and training. Research evidence also points to connections between learning programs for older adults and positive health outcomes. Despite this, the education needs of older individuals, in comparison to those of children and youth, remain relatively neglected in Canada as in the UK.

Organized adult education programs are frequently perceived as being outside of the core mandate of post-secondary institutions and regarded more and more as marginal revenue generators. It has become customary for continuing education units within institutions to offer programming on a full cost-recovery basis which, of course, results in higher fees. This unfortunate state of affairs is unlikely to be remedied by our ongoing economic difficulties.