Michele Hanson, Bamber Gascoigne, Diana Athill and others on going back to university after 60

From Global development | The Guardian Sat Feb 23 2013, 09:00:00

The government wants pensioners to return to education because it will make them 'more employable'. Michele Hanson is unconvinced, but others can see the appeal

What an odd idea from David Willetts, our universities minister. He's suggested that the over-60 should return to education and take courses to keep their skills up to date, so that they can hang on to their jobs beyond retirement age. Or find new ones. And lucky pensioners - they may apply for a grant, which they will probably never have to pay back, because their pensions are unlikely to exceed £21,000, the amount your salary must reach before you begin repayments. It sounds almost too good to be true. Years of government-funded study to perk up the twilight of our lives. And I suspect universities will be thrilled. It will mean more income for them, now that they're losing customers, including loads of foreign students, because hardly anyone can afford £27,000 for a three-year degree course.

But then I read Willetts' statements more carefully, and found them worrying. "There is certainly a pressure for continuing to get retrained and upskilled," said he. That makes you "more employable". Upskilled? I suspect he's talking about IT skills. You wouldn't really "upskill" your history or literature. Doctors, dentists, vets, scientists and engineers have to keep updating their training as part of their employment, so he can't mean them. So if he is thinking that the over-60s should slog away at improving their IT talents in the hope of catching up and competing with the younger generation, who crawl to screens and keyboards straight from the womb, then he is expecting rather too much from us. Not that the over-60s are technophobic Luddites. I wouldn't dare suggest it. They are sharp as tacks. But the young have several heads' start, and how many jobs are there out there, in IT or anything, even for ...

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