Back to uni for the over-60's: not such a smart idea, Willetts

Feb 21, 2013

Minister says courses will make older workers 'more employable' but experts ask if the cost is worth it

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PEOPLE in their 60s should go back to university to retrain because they will be expected to work for years longer before retirement, according to higher education minister David Willetts. The 56-year-old told the Daily Telegraph older workers who take such courses will be "more employable". "Education is such a good thing it is not reserved for younger people", he said.

But for Allan Massie, it's the wrong advice. He believes that while Willetts's idea "makes sense of a sort" the government should instead focus on creating jobs for young people. "Good luck to the oldies of course, and, since I am one of them, even three cheers," he writes in the Telegraph.

"Nevertheless it seems likely that if Mr Willetts has his way and people rush to follow his advice, the outlook for younger generations may prove even bleaker than it is at present – which is not, I suppose, what he intends."

Massie believes the government's focus should be on workers made redundant in the middle of their careers rather than "persuading people of 65 and over to acquire new skills and retrain for employment".

Student loans are available at any age. But people in their 60s may not view accruing debts of £27,000 to do a three-year degree as a good investment, the Daily Mail points out.

The paper quotes pensions expert Ros Altmann who says: "I wouldn't have thought that three years at university with those kind of costs, and the long holidays that universities have, would be the best thing for older people to take up and pay for".

Those heading towards retirement age don't seem too keen on the idea, based on current evidence. Only 1,940 over-60s among 552,240 undergraduates started courses in 2012.

Dot Gibson, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, told the Telegraph: "Older workers still face the barrier of age discrimination. It's difficult to see how building up a debt of nearly £30,000 in university fees is going to help them get a job."

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When he reaches 60, let's see if he is re-employable as I imagine he will be out of government by that time.

There is a very real issue here; it's not whether it is good value for the country to re-educate older people though- young people will struggle even more to enter the work place if older people are retaining their jobs for longer or competing more frequently for them.

Without increasing the number of jobs available why does it help to allow more people to compete for the same small number of jobs? The unemployment figures will remain the same overall, it will just mean more demographics cover the unemployed spectrum. Added to that, there will be more debt in the country as older people take on the burden of hefty student loans- they will be conned into thinking it's worth it, just as young people are today.

What is really needed is the creation of more jobs, not more debt and more competition for the ones we have.