Some findings from the Ransackers research project
Ransackers Association (RA) has been promoting serious education for older people for over 10 years. Since changes in the funding climate prevented colleges from running the 10 week Ransacker non-vocational courses, RA has carried out research with some of the 700 people who took studied on these courses, each writing a mini project on a topic of their own choice.
The interviews were all done by a team of six older researchers over 55, supported and mentored by three academics who are experts in the study of ageing, and they met at four workshops, coming together from Cornwall, Birmingham, Staffordshire and London. The project was mainly funded by BSG Averil Osborn project.
Topics studied by Ransackers ranged from history (which was very popular and included biographies) and literature, to engineering and social issues.
Themes emerging from this research (and we are still analysing the data) included strong views about education in the post war decades, different types of motivation, and some markers about the support required for seniors to go back to study. We also debated the question “What IS serious study” – in fact we still are debating it – but generally we see it as sustained study requiring concentrated effort, commitment in terms of energy and time.
Failing the 11+ exam had been a very damaging experience for some, and they carried this sense of school failure through life until they finally went back to study and proved to themselves they could actually do it – this was a transformative experience for them.
Several had been encouraged to go back to study by family, sons, daughters. This intergenerational effect of young people who expected in the 2000s to go on to HE and university, and mostly did so , encouraging their parents who missed out was noticeable.
Some interviewees felt they had a new identity:
“I’m not just an OAP , a retired person, I’m now an older person who has a higher qualification ( eg a Masters).”
Most of the seniors mentioned the increased confidence they had gained:
“A massive awakening! Given the opportunity I would go and do the whole thing again”
Some went on to do a different type of paid work, or to volunteer in the community, some as teachers and speakers.
This was a short 12 month project, limited by funds and resources; much more needs to be done to get education for seniors back on the agenda. We are keen to partner with institutions who are researching these issues, and fundraising is a priority for us.
We are considering how best to campaign for better educational opportunities for seniors in this era of austerity: degrees are still avalible via loans (which don’t have to be paid back by low income pensioners) but the access points are not so available as they were 20 years ago. Our belief is that older people, whether working in the paid or voluntary economies, or not working at all but just exercising their brains, should have the opportunities to study, as part of wellbeing and being active members of society.