New curriculum needed for longer retirement, says study

23rd January 2009 at 00:00
The Government's focus on under-25s ignores a growing number who will spend a third of their lives beyond working age, claims academic

A new curriculum is needed to provide education for a majority of people who could spend a third of their lives in retirement, a study of Britain's aging population says.

Stephen McNair, author of the report and director of the Centre for Research into the Older Workforce, said that for the first time in history, in the first quarter of this century people may spend a third of their lives in retirement in relatively good health, with choices about what they do, how, where and when.

There are now more people over the age of 59 than under 16, but he said an education system focused on under-25s was not ready to help this growing group of people make the most of their freedom and adjust to life after work.

"Our historic concentration of policy attention and resources on young people cannot meet the new needs," he said. "Alongside learning for young people and learning for jobs, we need courses that help people to remain engaged and active in the world outside work, and to make sense of their lives.

"The majority of our education budget is spent on people below the age of 25. When people are changing their jobs, homes, partners and lifestyles more often than ever, they need opportunities to learn at every age."

In addition to the most popular courses of information technology, foreign languages, health and cultural subjects, the study says there is a need for financial literacy to cope with the complexity of funding a long retirement, citizenship to harness life experience, time for volunteering, and courses in caring to help the large numbers looking after spouses or parents who have little support.

It said there was also a need for broader, more timely pre-retirement information setting out the options for retirees.

The report, commissioned as part of the Inquiry into the Future of Lifelong Learning, established by the adult learning organisation Niace, said the education system needed to offer something to people of all ages, given the continual changes they faced in jobs, homes and lifestyles.

Under-25s are entering the labour market later and people may enter it several times as they change careers. The population is also more mobile, with people needing to restart careers after moving house, bereavement or the break-up of relationships.

Retirement starting ages are also becoming more unpredictable, coming at any time after 50 and sometimes more than a decade after the traditional 65, the report found.

As well as the growing "third age" of healthy retirees, the report urged more provision for the "fourth age" of more dependent adults, many of whom may struggle to reach the usual locations for adult learning.

The report comes against a background of declining participation in adult education, with the Government focused on more intensive, work-related qualifications rather than larger numbers of short courses, as in the past.

"Although everyone's quality of life depends on the economic productivity of working-age adults, it does not follow that the maximum good of the population as a whole is served by focusing everything on paid employment and young people," Professor McNair said.

He said just 1 per cent of the education budget is spent on the oldest third of the population at the moment.

Alan Tuckett, director of Niace, said the extra cost of investing more in education for people of all ages would be "a very modest sum" compared with the gains from better health and greater independence among older people.

He said: "We need to be worried about people displaced from the labour market, but many of these will be people in mid-career or at the end of their career.

"Thinking about what we need for the economy of the day after tomorrow, it would be a mistake not to have a strategy for these people."

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