Over-65s left behind in learning

1st August 2008 at 01:00
High fees, fear of crime and poor transport prevent the elderly from taking up college courses, says study

Elderly people are being blocked from enrolling on college courses by high fees, poor transport and fear of crime, a survey has revealed.

Nearly two-thirds of over-65s say fear of crime stops them joining a course, according to the report, conducted by ICM for the charity Help the Aged.

About two fifths also say the courses are too expensive, there is too little information about them, or that there is no transport to take them to college.

The report rejected distinctions between vocational learning and studying for its own sake. It said older people had specific needs to prevent them becoming isolated and excluded from society, as well as skills for dealing with finances, new technology, health, and gaining access to the social care system.

Amy Swan, policy officer for Help the Aged, said: "Education and learning new skills are incredibly important for people of all ages, but all too often older people are left behind.

"Barriers such as lack of transport, fear of crime or high course fees make it very difficult for older people to access courses that will help them keep up to date with changes in modern life.

"It's not surprising that older people want to learn how to manage their finances, keep up with advancements in technology and how to stay fit and healthy as they get older - these are all skills that will help prevent them being brushed aside by society."

The Conservative Party, in its green paper on further education, has said adult apprenticeships would be fully funded, regardless of age. The budget for the courses has been increased by pound;10 million to pound;35m in the past year.

But for most elderly people the demand for classes was in subjects such as how to stay healthy, with 73 per cent of the 1,000 respondents saying they would like a course of that type. Others are concerned about the way they would be regarded by younger students.

The survey found 28 per cent were worried they would be the oldest in the class, rising to 50 per cent for the over-80s. A quarter believe they are too old to learn new things, while 30 per cent believe there are no relevant courses for the elderly.

The report criticises the cuts to adult education funding that have seen more than 1.4 million places lost. "With the UK's older population growing, these cuts are especially striking," the report said.

It recommended the Government should invest more in adult education and suggested a network of "learning officers" around the country who can show elderly people their options and guide them to the right college.

It also said the Learning and Skills Council should actively seek out older people in an attempt to encourage them to study.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills said: "The Government is committed to giving everyone, including older people, the opportunity to continue learning throughout their lives. That's why we are investing pound;210m annually over the next three years in informal adult learning."

She said Help the Aged's submissions to the consultation on informal adult learning would be taken into account in an effort to ensure that the money is spent where it is most needed.

"We recognise the benefits of learning and its vital contribution to personal health and wellbeing, community involvement and quality of life as people age," she said.

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