Back in 1973, a very interesting social program emerged in France – “University of the Third Age” (U3A), which meant the creation of a network of higher education institutions for pensioners who are believed to be in the third period of their life after the two previous ones – active maturation and productive work for the benefit of family and society. After retirement, these people could receive formal or non-formal education from highly qualified teachers at local universities, choosing those disciplines that they considered interesting or necessary for themselves. However, they did not seek to obtain diplomas but could be satisfied with certificates, although not necessarily. The main goal was the process of learning and communication. There were no exams and homework, only regular lessons and study groups. It was learning for fun, not for the purpose of obtaining qualifications.
The movement very quickly gained immense popularity in all countries of Europe and in North America, although it underwent a number of changes and modifications. Thus, in the British model, the emphasis was placed on mutual training within groups of older people based on their rich experience and professional skills, without formal links with traditional universities. Today, anyone in their “third age” can join U3A, including people who work part-time, as there are usually no restrictions for membership. Older students are eager to learn computer skills, entrepreneurship, languages, politics, culture, religion, etc. under the leadership of one of the members of their group, they themselves form the curriculum, website, training and information base, coordinating structures at the national level. To date, the movement includes more than 400,000 U3A members in the UK, who study at more than 1,000 U3A and their number continues to grow every day. [U3A. 2000]. The U3A program strives to be as accessible and people-oriented as possible – classes are held in different places. Groups are found either at someone’s home, or at a local library, church, or community center [Age UK, 2019].
In Germany, which adheres to the French model, and where, according to demographic statistics, one-third of the population will be over 60 by 2020, many large universities now offer special courses for older students, albeit in private higher education, with strict standards and requirements. A feature of their programs is the ability to put young people and “gray heads” students in one class, and both groups are quite positive about this neighborhood [Times Higher Education, 1995].
Many American colleges that also use the French model of education for the elderly offer cheap or even free classes for this cohort of the population. Older people attend lectures without gaining scores, without receiving credits, they can learn for free what interests them. The cost, timing, terms, and benefits of a program vary from state to state. Most often, unpaid elderly people take up “free space” after completing the registration of paid students. The laws of the states of Arkansas, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, and many others oblige all state colleges and universities to provide free tuition for students aged 55 and older. In addition, these students receive a 50% discount on books and other study materials at official campus bookstores. Some states have funds for reimbursement of this college program [Livingston, 2018].
Some universities adapt in a very original way to demographic changes and new needs of society. So, the University of Arizona is building a hostel, which should be completed before 2020, but not young students will live in it, but people 60, 70 years of age and older. They will be able to attend classes, enjoy campus facilities, such as the university library, and immerse themselves in university life as much as possible. If desired, and with proper qualifications, they can play the role of experts, teachers, mentors for younger students. In other words, these residents will be part of the academic community [McKenzie, 2019]. And this is not a unique case; the trend of building private pension communities in or near campuses is growing. Some of these communities were founded by former teachers. Universities believe that the energy and experience of older people can be extremely beneficial to their peers, campus, and students. At the same time, pensioners have the opportunity to live a full and interesting life, to be socially active and demanded by their environment.
The emergence of new technologies has allowed the use of the format of virtual courses for old people living far from education centers and even in other countries. Many experts rightly believe that not only physical but also intellectual activity enriches and prolongs the life of older people, who are not limited to studying the arts, classical and modern literature, history, social sciences, and philosophy, but then use acquired knowledge to carry out, for example, serious research of local history and genealogy, organize an exhibition of photographs of life and work in their region, provide medical and social assistance to those who live in more remote settlements.
Meanwhile, in another part of the world, in the Chinese educational system, the idea of a university for the elderly was also embodied, although the first experience of creating such a higher educational institution was aimed at the veterans of the Communist Party. After the opening of the first educational center in 1983, another 70,000 appeared throughout the country. About 8 million students – just over 3% of the population over 60 years old study dancing, using the Internet, English, and other more traditional academic disciplines. Even today, some schools are reserved for retired government employees, although there are others that are open to all. Funding is provided by the government. Demand exceeds supply, among those who want to study, for example, in Shanghai, 6 people claim one place, in Hangzhou – 16. Considering that almost 35% of all Chinese citizens will reach 60 years by 2050, the government plans to open at least one university in each district for older students [The Economist, 2018].
Kazakhstan also has programs to involve people of retirement age in active social life through active longevity centers in major cities of the country, which is closer to the British model of organizing communities of pensioners who have no connection with higher education institutions. The centers have a library, a fitness room, rooms for practicing chess, knitting, watching movies, in addition, training is organized for those wishing to master the skills of computer literacy, working with smartphones, and the English language. In the future, it is expected to provide free legal, psychological, medical consultations, conducting motivational seminars and master classes. Along with this, morning and evening classes in physical therapy, fitness, yoga, and Scandinavian walking were organized in the parks and squares of Almaty, although the initiative belonged to the pensioners themselves, who spontaneously began to gather in the parks, get to know each other, exercise and, in after all, began to provide mutual assistance when needed [bnews.kz, 2018]. A feature of the centers is the focus on holding mass cultural, sports and intellectual events – exhibitions, fairs, competitions. It is clear that such developments are needed, they enrich everyday life, cheer up, but there is no regular, mandatory and long-term effect inherent in the French model of the program “University of the 3rd age.” City social services cannot build a platform for this kind of program.
Apparently, in this situation it is impossible to do without the help of universities, the number of which in Kazakhstan is much more than, say, in Germany, France, Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, and other European countries. However, Kazakhstani universities are not yet aware of their social function and responsibility towards older people, unlike their foreign counterparts. More precisely, they are not motivated to implement this function. If, on the one hand, during the national and international accreditation of universities, the factor of engaging older people in educational programs was measured and taken into account, and, on the other hand, the government would cover university expenses for free or partially paid lecture courses for older people, this area could gradually change. Obviously, one more priority should appear among the priorities of the state’s social policy – education (and in fact, salvation) of the “third age”.
Age UK. (2019). Home Information and advice Work & learning Education and training University of the Third Age (U3A). Retrieved from https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/work-learning/education-training/university-of-the-third-age/ Accessed on 08.05.2019.
Вnews.kz. (2018). Center for pensioners opened in Almaty. Retrieved from https://bnews.kz/ru/news/tsentr_dlya_pensionerov_otkrili_v_almati. Accessed on 10.05.2019.
Livingston, A. (2018). Free & Cheap College Classes for Senior Citizens (By State & University). Retrieved from https://www.moneycrashers.com/college-classes-seniors/ Accessed on 08.05.2019.
McKenzie, L. (2019). A sold-out housing complex for senior citizens on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus sparks a conversation about whether universities are doing enough to engage with older people. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/01/09/high-demand-retirees-live-campus-arizona-state-university Retirees to Embrace Campus Life. Accessed on 07.05.2019.
The Economist. (2018). Why universities for the elderly are booming in China Both Confucius and Mao would approve. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2018/08/16/why-universities-for-the-elderly-are-booming-in-china. Accessed on 08.05.2019.
Times Higher Education. (1995) University for senior citizens. Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/university-for-senior-citizens/96922. Accessed on 08.05.2019.
U3A. (2000). Our story. Retrieved from https://www.u3a.org.uk/about/history. Accessed on 08.05.2019.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Nadirova Gulnar Ermuratovna graduated from the Oriental Faculty of Leningrad State University, in 1990 she defended her thesis on the Algerian literature at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, in 2006 doctoral thesis - on modern Tunisian literature at the Tashkent Institute of Oriental Studies, Professor.