Bertie Gladwin left school at 14, in the mid-1930s, to work as a grocery delivery boy. He later became a barrister’s clerk, a WW2 RAF radio officer and a radio communications engineer for the Foreign Office and M16.
While good jobs, Bertie had never considered himself to be academic – until he retired that is, when he embarked on a series of academic challenges, gaining BAs in Psychology and Microbiology from the Open University and most recently, in 2012, an MA in military intelligence from the University of Buckingham, a milestone that made him the UK’s oldest new graduate at the age of 90.
He enjoyed his MA year:
“I feel very satisfied to think that I’ve done an MA at my age,” he says.
“When you’re 90, you sit around and not a lot happens, so it’s important to carry on learning and to broaden your horizons. I feel very good about it, but really I think I’m just lucky.”
Ronald Williams, 85, decided to learn Welsh when he turned 70. He grew up in south Wales speaking English, but from the age of 23 he lived and worked near Birmingham. After retiring, he decided he wanted to reconnect with his roots.
“I’m a Welshman and everybody should be able to speak their national language,” he told The Guardian.
Another spur was that he didn’t want to experience the isolation that is sometimes associated with being elderly.
“It’s so good to have an interest.”
“Loneliness is a terrible thing. I would hate to have to sit in a chair and rely on somebody knocking on the door to open my mouth.”
These days, it is easier than ever to learn in middle age and beyond. There are subjects for every possible interest, online, in correspondence courses or at colleges and universities, there is technology to make learning accessible, and because there is a trend towards workers starting up second careers, there is a growing demand for learning coming from older people.
Stretching yourself intellectually is good the brain, it keeps you young and it opens the mind to new ideas, but wanting to learn is a must. After all, working towards a higher education goal is a commitment and if you don’t really wish for it, it probably won’t happen.
In some ways, being an older student is an advantage because as we age we get better at managing our time, a vital skill when studying. We may also be more disciplined, know ourselves well, what we are capable of and what we find a challenge, and have learnt from our mistakes.
On top of that, as we go through life, we become interested in new subjects, or hark back to interests we once had but let go. Later in life, more confident and caring less what others think of us, we can take risks.
Then there’s retirement. Although retirement age is drifting upwards, there are likely to be many years ahead for the new retiree. Some people may enjoy looking at that leisurely horizon but for many, it can be boring, even scary, so why not challenge yourself to reach new heights.
As Bertie Gladwin commented on achieving his MA:
“It is never too late to learn.”