Exploring Retirement

Welcome to the January 2015 edition of Exploring Retirement. Each month we write about well-being in retirement. We also feature articles on activities for the retired. Watch out for a new feature starting next month when we ask one of our active readers to tell us what they have been up to since they "retired"!

Exploring retirement is written by and for retired people and accepts no sponsorship from advertising. We hope you enjoy our monthly publication and will tell your friends about the site.

All of us at Exploring Retirement would like to wish our readers a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

In this issue we look at lifelong learning, as it is important to cultivate old interests and to develop new ones, for a fulfilling retirement. Opportunities for older people to continue to learn new things are coming increasingly under threat. If you feel strongly about this issue, e-mail us to share your views. At Exploring Retirement we want to hear what you think.

Our very first edition, in January 2013, featured the University of the Third Age. In keeping with this months theme of lifelong learning, I have invited Stuart Pollard, a Trustee of the University of the Third Age, to tell us how the U3A has been developing since. My local U3A now has over 1000 members!

To mark the start of a new year, Michael McSorley suggests a walk in the park. After days and perhaps weeks of festive living, many people rush to join sports clubs and gyms. There is, of course another way and it doesn't cost as much!

Jeanette Lewis has added her own thoughts on lifelong learning, seasoned as always with sensible advice.

Writing team

We have three regular contributors on our writing team. Here they are with a brief note explaining our principal areas of interest:

John Copelton, EditorDr John Copelton - well-being in retirementMichael McSorley, contributorMichael McSorley - lively comment on sport and cultureJeannette Lewis, contributorJeannette Lewis - inspiring ideas on retirement living

If you enjoy writing and would like to have some of your material considered for publication on the Exploring Retirement website, do get in touch. E-mail editor@exploringretirement.co.uk.

Learning in Retirement

First, the bad news....

If there is one thing that everyone agrees on, it is the important contribution that continuing to learn new things can make to the quality of life in retirement. You might expect then that our governments would be actively encouraging the provision of courses of study for older adults. That this is not the case in the UK was highlighted in an e-mail I received earlier this year from Margaret Barnes, who contributed the article on the Giro D'Italia in our August 2014 issue. Margaret is originally from Northern Ireland, although she now lives in Yorkshire, in England. She has fond memories of attending courses in the Institute of Lifelong Learning at Queen's University, Belfast. She wrote to say -

"Here the universities do nothing like this at all. A couple of years ago I sent the link to what Queen's was offering to 4 of my nearest universities, asking for the link to what they offered. I already knew the answer - nothing at all. And that was their reply. I have been told it is related to changes in funding provision."

A recent example of the impact of cutbacks here in Northern Ireland has been the demise of the WEA. Founded in 1903, the Workers' Educational Association is a charity and the UK's largest voluntary sector provider of adult education. While continuing to provide educational opportunities in England, Scotland and Wales, the WEA in Northern Ireland was forced to wind up earlier this year "due to circumstances completely outside their control". While some of the cut backs are the result of reductions in government spending, as a result of the economic recession, there also seems to be an implicit belief among our political leaders that the sole purpose of education is to enable the recipients to earn a living. Study after study however, has shown that education makes a major contribution to the quality of life for students of all ages. The benefits of a good education are particularly noticeable in later life. Education gives us a much greater range of interests to pursue in retirement. Our politicians seem to have forgotten the Biblical injunction "Man does not live by bread alone".

It is not only funding issues that have diminished course provision. Other misguided policies have also had disastrous consequences. The insistence that courses must contribute to "employability" is a case in point. A few years ago my wife enrolled in a class on Collecting Antiques, run by our local Further Education College. The course ran quite happily for several years before a change in government policy required courses to be "examinable" and to lead to a "qualification". Since the course participants were mostly retired, they were not enthusiastic about working for a "qualification" that they did not need. Not only that, but they would be charged to sit the exam! Not surprisingly the class no longer runs. Our Further Education Colleges currently offer only a very limited menu of short courses that might appeal to anyone seeking to learn for learnings sake.

.....then the good news!

While I firmly believe that nothing beats a course taught by an enthusiastic teacher, there is room in the market for courses delivered by other forms of communication, including distance learning. Many universities and institutions are now making their lectures available to a wider public via the internet. In the UK, the Open University has been established since 1969. It is notable for having an open entry policy i.e. there are no formal academic requirements for anyone wishing to study an undergraduate course. You can gain an insight into what the OU has to offer from the Open Learn site which provides free extracts from OU materials.

Around one quarter of the UK's full-time, undergraduate entrants now comprises mature students and, despite tuition fee increases, many universities are witnessing higher than ever applications from this age bracket. For a few years before I retired I commuted to work by train. It was on the train that I met John, who in his seventies, gained access to Queen's University, Belfast to study History. John left school with little in the way of formal education but by hard work and innate ability had risen to become Managing Director of his own company. Despite his many accomplishments, he always regretted his lack of formal education. As we travelled together he spoke with genuine enthusiasm about the joy of learning, which he considered a great privilege. I know many academics and they love having students like John! Despite poor health in his last year, John graduated with honours. It was wonderful to see his confidence grow and develop. John gained much more than a degree - his final year research into historical figures from Belfast's industrial past became an enduring passion which he could continue to pursue for its own sake. The last time we spoke together, he was hoping to return to university as a postgraduate student.

It can be easy to overlook the obvious but one of the oldest places for self-directed learning is your local library. Libraries are moving quickly to catch up with digital technologies. I can now search the entire library collection on-line, order books for delivery to my local branch or download to a Kindle or similar device. My library also allows me free access to a wide range of magazines, including quality publications like Scientific American and National Geographic - brilliant!

Some useful web sites for distance learning and keeping up-to-date, are -

  • Academic Earth
  • A collection of free online college courses from the world's top universities.

    Ideas at the House

    Ideas at the House features some of world's most thought provoking speakers discussing their ideas onstage at Sydney Opera House.

  • The Royal Society
  • Video recordings of many of The Royal Society's lectures and events.

  • TED Talks
  • Nearly 2000 short talks on a wide range of topics of general interest - from science to business to global issues.

    University College London, Lunch-Time Lectures

    Highlights the research going on in the UK's top rated research university. An invaluable insight into the very forefront of knowledge.

    The U3A

    The gap in educational provision for older adults is also being filled by older adults themselves. In the UK the University of the Third Age (U3A) provides courses where retired and semi-retired people learn together, with the teaching being provided by the members. It is understood that the learning is it's own reward. We asked Stuart Pollard, the Northern Ireland Regional Trustee, to provide us with an update on what has been happening.

    Progress Report - U3A in Northern Ireland

    U3A featured in the very first issue of Exploring Retirement. It has continued to flourish in in the 2 years since, so now is a good time for an update. For those new to U3A, it stands for University of the Third Age. It is a nationwide organisation (and international too), based on local groups providing opportunities for retired and semi-retired people to come together and develop their interests. It's not a university in the traditional sense. Members don't study for qualifications and no qualifications are needed to join. Members just enjoy meeting people and taking part in a wide range of learning, health and social activities.

    There are 23 U3As in Northern Ireland (including 3 started in the last 2 years) with over 6000 members. Individual U3As range in size from around 40 to over 1000 members. The oldest is U3A Foyle which is just starting to celebrate its 25th Anniversary year, while the youngest is Holywood District U3A which started in April 2014. It is hoped for more to be started in 2015.

    Each local U3A is operationally independent, which means members decide for themselves what activities to organise, where & when to meet, and what fees to set. Since it is run as a non-profit making charity by the members, for the members, costs are low. Typically, there will be a monthly meeting with a speaker and a wide range of weekly classes from Art to Zumba, or whatever the members choose to organise. Members can take part in as many or as few activities as they wish.

    U3As also come together for regional events. A Northern Ireland regional committee organises a meeting for all local U3As in the Spring and in the Autumn. The committee facilitates other inter-U3A events such a bridge congress, a choir festival, pub-quiz, etc. Contact details for all local U3As and full information on regional activities is on the regional website: http://u3ani.info/

    The Third Age Trust is the national representative body for U3A in the UK. The Trust is funded by a small capitation fee of £3.50 paid by the U3As for each member. In return, the Trust provides a range of services to U3As such as insurance, advice booklets, music and other licences, and a well-stocked Resource Centre of study material from which U3As can borrow free of charge. For a further small contribution towards postage, the capitation fee also includes 5 issues of the members' magazine, Third Age Matters and 3 issues of the educational magazine, Sources. 952 U3As, with a combined membership of over 341,000 are affiliated to the Trust. For more details, see the website: http://www.u3a.org.uk/

    Northern Ireland is represented on the Trust by the Regional Trustee, Stuart Pollard. Please contact Stuart if you would like to find out more and especially if you would be interested in starting a new U3A in your area. He can be contacted on email at sjpollard51@hotmail.com or tel.: 028 7083 3013.


    A Walk in the Park - Michael McSorley

    As an antidote to festive overindulgence, Michael recommends going for a good walk in the great outdoors! To read about his own favourite perambulation, click here.

    Adult Learning - Jeanette Lewis

    Jeanette shares her experience of adult learning as well as providing examples from the experiences of her friends and family. Click here.