Is there an age when we stop learning? There is no biological evidence to support this. Certainly, it is easier to acquire languages in youth when brain plasticity is at full capacity. However, this does not mean that it is impossible to learn another language when you get older. It will just take a little longer.
In fact, many people leaving the job market for retirement will fill their time by reading specialized books, visiting museums, and some will even go back to the university benches. This is surprising, yet the trend of senior students is on the rise.
All the benefits of schooling without the drawbacks
In the past, schooling was meant to be the time before a career. After working life, it was about enjoying the years before the grave. Except that in barely a century, the face of aging is no longer the same. Today's fifty or sixty year olds are almost as fit as the forty year olds of yesteryear. They are still fired up and passionate enough to take on projects. This includes wrapping up a dropped education or simply going there to get an education.
Universities have understood this and since the 1970s, in France, these Universities of the Third Age (UTA), Universities for All (UPT), or Universities of Free Time (UTL) have appeared. The idea was to offer cultural activities to the elderly and the permanent opportunity to learn. All the more so as these students are for the professors a good thing. They have no pressure from exams and they can choose to study what interests them. There's no need to slog through mandatory courses that don't interest them. What's more, the choices are vast: from language courses to history, wine, theater, Asian languages, etc.
From Perpignan to Aubagne Country, the number of universities offering these UPTs is growing. Our Directory lists many of them, by the way. This is not just happening in France, as across the Atlantic in Quebec, established institutions such as the University of Sherbrooke are offering UTAs in different regions. Conferences on different topics that interest people of this age while enlightening them in the light of the latest research such as historical figures, philosophy or neuropsychology.
For seniors with less mobility or who are located further away from major centers, online solutions are increasingly offered. For example, Nice Inter-Age University offers a YouTube channel with a few dozen talks.
Keeping Seniors Alert
Why would an academic institution embark on such an organization? Certainly not for profit. UTAs at the University of Sherbrooke do charge costs, but they hover around $70 per activity. Nothing to do with the thousands of dollars in tuition fees for full-time students. It requires finding speakers or professors, preparing venues, teaching materials, etc. Sure, some individuals might end up enrolling in the regular courses, but there is no guarantee. What if, in fact, this volunteering of higher education institutions is not a way to ensure a brain-healthy old age?
Studies are still preliminary on senior universities, but most tend to show benefits to both physical and mental health. So far, few have been able to pinpoint a specific reason. Coming out of isolation is already a wellness factor in itself. The joy of learning is still found in individuals even in old age.
For sociologist Serge Guérin, continuing to activate the brain in this way would also be a good way to avoid neurological syndromes like Alzheimer's. So far, however, no research shows a correlation between decreases in cognitive disease risk and education.
So what to do for seniors looking to return to the classroom? It all depends on what is being sought. For those seeking a degree, it will be best to already have a bachelor's degree. Otherwise, it will be necessary to present a validation of professional experience (VAP) or of experience (VAE). Thus, a jury will be able to decide if the application is accepted.
Those who only wish to learn for pleasure will be able to register in the UTAs but also be free auditors (in the establishments and courses allowing it). No exams to take or practical work, only the possibility of attending lectures.
In addition, it is quite possible to follow a distance course from home. The CNED (Centre national d'Enseignement à Distance) has actually partnered with UTLs to distribute educational content. The advantages are even greater because there is no schedule to follow and no need to travel elsewhere. However, this approach does require a little more rigor to complete its courses.
Photo : RODNAE Productions by Pexels
"How To Take College Courses For Seniors?" Superprof Tutoring. Last updated April 22, 2021. https://www.superprof.fr/blog/etudes-universitaires-seniors/.
Couillard, Marc-Andre. "It's Time To Enroll In The University Of The Third Age." Coup D'oeil. Last updated September 19, 2021. https://www.coupdoeil.info/actualite/education/cest-le-temps-de-sinscrire-a-luniversite-du-troisieme-age/.
Idbouja, Soraya. "Reprise D'études : Jusqu'à Quel âge, Comment S'y Prendre ?" Pleine Vie. Last updated March 24, 2022. https://www.pleinevie.fr/vie-quotidienne/societe/reprise-detudes-jusqua-age-sy-prendre-59055.html.
"The Impact Of Learning At Third Age University To Health." International Association Of Universities Of The Third Age. Accessed April 8, 2022. https://www.aiu3a.com/impact-to-health/.
"Culture at Any Age: Find The Right Places!" Autonomy Essential. Last updated October 21, 2021. https://www.essentiel-autonomie.com/prendre-soin-moi/culture-tout-age-trouvez-lieux-adaptes.
"University Courses For Retirees." Radins.com. Last updated July 12, 2021. https://www.radins.com/administratif-juridique/famille/quand-les-retraites-retournent-a-universite/3526.
Martin, Damien. "Perpignan: "Culture Et Convivialité" at L'Université Du Temps Libre." Lindependant.fr. Last updated September 28, 2021. https://www.lindependant.fr/2021/09/28/perpignan-culture-et-convivialite-a-luniversite-du-temps-libre-9818680.php.
Richardot, Robin. "Annik, Muriel, Alexandre, Seniors And Students." Slate.fr. Last updated March 26, 2019. https://www.slate.fr/story/174891/seniors-reprendre-etudes-retraite.
"Université Du Temps Libre: Pour Le Plaisir D'apprendre." Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolis. Last updated: August 12, 2021. https://www.ampmetropole.fr/utl.
"University For Seniors: There Is No Age To Learn!" Nice-Matin. Last updated September 2021. https://www.nicematin.com/index.php/detente/universite-pour-seniors-il-ny-a-pas-dage-pour-apprendre-710407.
See more articles by this author