Access to higher education in the third age: the value of diversity

Bunyan, Karen (2003) Access to higher education in the third age: the value of diversity. [Conference Proceedings]


There is a wide gap in the educational attainment levels of younger and older people in; Ireland (Irish Equality Authority, 2002:61), which may be due to past deficiencies in the Irish; second level system. Only one-third of adults between the ages of 55 and 64 have completed; second level education compared to two-thirds of adults between the ages of 25 and 34 (Irish; Department of Education and Science, 2000:34-36). The participation of mature students in; higher education in Ireland is amongst the lowest in the OECD (Irish Department of; Education and Science, 2000:18). Only 5% of students in higher education in Ireland are; mature students compared to 33% in the UK and 29% in Northern Ireland (Lynch, 1999:189).; As well as the low proportions of mature students, the majority are relatively young with only; 5% of mature students aged fifty or over (Lynch, 1999:192).; It is now widely accepted that older adults have special educational needs (Elmore, 1999: 12),; which must be respected and reflected in education (Irish Department of Education and; Science, 2000:13). Older adults have been instrumental through their economic contribution; to the education system which has proved beneficial to the economic advancement of the; country, and to the personal benefit of younger generations in Ireland and therefore, should; now have the opportunity to participate in education for themselves (Irish Equality Authority,; 2002:58). As discrimination on the grounds of age is prohibited under the Equal Status Act; Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, 2000, p.10), people over the age of fifty; should have the same right to education as younger people.; However there are well-documented barriers that affect older adults in returning to learning.; Psychological factors such as feeling out of place among younger students or fear of; competition with younger students may be a barrier to learning (Scala, 1996:761). Scala; (1996:761) also found that older adults returning to education may have some academic; difficulties. These barriers need to be addressed if we are to provide equal opportunities in; education.; With an increase in the amount of older learners returning to education, the age diverse; classroom will become commonplace. Therefore, to plan effectively for older learners, it is; important to lean what their interests, motivations and experiences are in the classroom; (Scala, 1996:748).

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