The Ransackers project, running at several colleges between 2004 and 2013, enabled around 700 over 55s to go back to study. Originally set up as part of Better Government for Older People (BGOP), the Ransackers education course concept was founded in Oxford by Vi Hughes. The name ‘Ransackers’ comes from the Gaelic word ‘Rannsachadh’ meaning to explore, scrutinise and discover, which is exactly what Vi Hughes, visualised for this group of older people. Older people who had not been to university became residential students for a ten-week term. They were not to be on a formal course; the academic staff would support them by enabling them to research a topic of their own choice, to use computers and libraries, to develop critical thinking, and hold discussions. The central task – to research and submit a 5000 word dissertation – gave students the opportunity to fuse experience with the fulfilment of an unmet aspiration, sometimes lifelong, through serious study.
BGOP, which ran from 1998 to 2008, had been set up by the incoming Labour government as “a national action-research programme to develop, test, monitor and evaluate, integrated, inter-agency services for an ageing population.” Vi Hughes, a retired lecturer from Ruskin College, succeeded in getting the Ransacker education project included. The project was funded by BGOP and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.
The Ransackers Association (RA) was formed in 2010 by people who had all experienced the educational adventure of the Ransackers courses, and who then wished to ensure that the opportunity remained open for other people.
However the courses came to an end in 2014 when the criteria for Learning and Skills Council funding changed and the colleges could not afford to run the courses.
In 2013 RA won a lottery Awards for All grant to involve members and interested parties in workshops to plan the next steps for RA in a more hostile funding climate. This lead to a new concentration on research, to study, students’ motivation for going back to study as older people, how students benefited from Ransacker courses and their learning experiences and challenges. A first year of research was undertaken unfunded, then in 2016 RA won a grant from Averil Osborn fund (a subsidiary of The British Society of Gerontology [BSG]).
In 2016 and 2017 RA presented at BSG conferences on different aspects of the research findings, and collaborated with academics over distilling some analysis into academic papers. This work is ongoing.