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Market research senior universities around the world



Kirjoittanut: Lucas Pääkkönen Alvim - tiimistä SYNTRE.

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Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 11 minuuttia.

Market research senior universities around the world

  • Introduction:

Senior Universities (US) all around the world have become a more popular concept in western societies with the increase of the importance of continual learning alongside active aging and the enhanced literate skills of older people. Senior education has been a commonly examined topic and is, as of current, divided into two corresponding concepts. The first concept views education in a strategic light related to “social therapy” – enhancing social unity. The second concept views senior education as a way to improve aging via educational exercises. The idea of Senior Universities (US) appeared during 1972 in France through an educational movement led by senior students who were studying at the University of Toulouse. This movement grew, so much so that it reached other countries who´s elders joined in unity. At present, there are two main models used in structuring the US: the first model originating from France and the second model originating from Britain. The French model connects the US to traditional universities and the British model is based upon volunteering, non-profit organizations (NGO´s) or self-initiated communities. On top of these two models, there are smaller versions with blended models. (Jacob et al, 2019)

 

As the demand for formal senior education increases with the increase of active aging, the demand for understanding the success components behind senior universities grows for those interested in the field of study. Within this research paper, the authors will analyze the success factors of three Senior Universities around the world, based on the following seven questions as a guideline: 

  1. How can a positive and uplifting culture be cultivated within senior universities? 
  2. How do senior universities incorporate technology into the learning experience, considering potential technological challenges for older learners?
  3. Are there partnerships or collaborations with external organizations that enhance the overall well-being of senior learners?
  4. How can universities ensure that faculty members are equipped with the skills and knowledge to create a positive and inclusive learning environment for seniors?
  5. What are the primary motivations for senior-aged students to participate in educational activities in Senior Universities?
  6. How are the Senior Universities financed?
  7. What noticeable challenges are there related to keeping Senior University programs alive? 

 

The goal of this paper is to serve as an in-depth case study on what exactly it is that makes the distinct three (Harvard, University of Toronto Senior College and National Silver Academy) Senior Universities successful and how to create an environment which supports this. 

 

  • Case study 1 (Harvard)

Harvard is one of the most popular universities around the world. It was the first official university in America, established in 1636 through a voting system by the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Up until this day, Harvard is considered as one of the top universities in the world (The President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2024).

As a prestigious university institute with global recognition, one of Harvard´s programs is specifically dedicated to teaching the elderly. With a community of 500 people, the university allows the opportunity for active aging and healthy mental stimulation for men and women, aged 55 and older. Harvard University is used as one of our case studies for this essay, to get a better understanding of what makes its senior university institute successful. (Harvard, 2024)  HILR is a program developed upon Cambridge standards and its mission statement is:  

“To foster a model of learning in retirement that catalyzes active intellectual engagement and volunteer effort. Rooted in academic curriculum of peer-led seminars, HILR seeks a diverse population of learners reflecting the multi-cultural richness of the larger society” (HILR, 2024)

At Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement (HILR), they deem one of their main success factors for cultivating a healthy and uplifting environment, to be the strong community they have managed to build between their students. The community consists of retired and partially retired elderly people over the age of 55, who have specialized in various industries, such as education, law, business, medicine, etc. In the case of HILR, each individual student is liable to pay his/her own fees on a semester basis. Besides having a prestigious reputation for their lectures, courses, and educational activities overall, HILR goes the extra mile by hosting multiple events and extracurricular activities. Events like weekly conferences and lectures with Harvard professors and other public intellectuals’ discussion contemporary issues relevant to the community and their field(s) of study. Other more relaxed events include live musical performances, a popular one being the yearly Matthew Ruggiero Memorial Concert, which has welcomed many well-known artists from organizations like BSO and BCMS. Extracurricular activities are also very important in this institution, to keep the elderly students engaged within the community in different ways, each one finding their own interests. These activities include joining foreign language groups, adding value to Harvard ́s digital magazine, joining workshops hosted by a fellow student, etc. The whole point of these events and extracurricular activities is for the community to flourish on a social level, which enhances the positive environment in which they work in and naturally results in increased productivity. (HILR, 2024)

 

Xaley Yousey (2021) has done an intensive research study on “In-Person and Emergency Remote Learning: An Examination of the Perceptions and Experiences of Seniors at Harvard University”, in which the researcher carried out six individual interviews with Seniors from Harvard University. She found that the students’ reaction towards remote learning had an overall negative connotation, with only a few positive side effects. Students explained that the content of their courses´ difficulty increased, they lacked energy and concentration more frequently, etc. They did however, find it beneficial that they had a noteworthy increase in the learning resources made available to them. Although connecting to Zoom meetings and understanding the technology behind remote learning was initially a challenge, COVID-19 changed this aspect and most of the Senior students understand the basics of how to get themselves connected and study from home. (Yousey, 2021) 

 

Harvard Senior University Institute has a holistic approach when it comes to active aging and the health of their elderly students. One of the measures taken specifically by Harvard is their extensive research done on the process of aging. Richard Hodes (director of the National Institute on Aging) explains healthy aging as the process of getting older while retaining vitality and preventing disease/disability. In other words, gradually aging in years diseaseless and performing at maximized functioning. (Menting, 2021)

 

The primary motivation/(s) for elderly people to join Harvard at the age of 55 and older, is the longing to belong to a community (events and extracurricular activities) as well as for mental stimulation. This can be observed by the type of courses that were available during the Spring semester of 2021, where the majority of the topics cover topics that enhance mental stimulation. These courses range from more laidback topics like “Reading The New Yorker, Part 1” (section 201) to more political topics like “The Women’s Movement in the 60s and Beyond: When Everything Changed” (section 221). The variety of choices with these courses lead to an increase in interest which results then in an increase of individual as well as community level motivation. (HILR, 2021) 

 

  • Case study 2 (University of Toronto Senior College)

In the second case study, we will be looking into the Senior College (SC) of University of Toronto.  It is a community of retired alumni academics and librarians, whose members have access to facilities and programs offered by the Senior College Centre, which is a physical space provided by the University of Toronto. This senior college was established in 2010 after a Senior Scholars Committee investigated arrangements in place at several universities in the US and decided that the University of Toronto should have its own program in place. The Senior College, and the salary of the College Administrator, are funded by The University of Toronto. In addition to this, the College is also engaged in fund-raising activities, as well as collecting small fees from their members who are interested in becoming more actively engaged in the College’s academic programs. The program is also open for donations (UOFT n.d).

One of the ways the Senior College of the University of Toronto uses to cultivate a positive and uplifting culture is by facilitating meaningful social interaction and empowering active participation by enabling the senior students to take on responsibility. The Members of the Senior College wishing to be more actively involved in the activities and running of the College may opt to become Fellows. In addition, spouses and partners of Senior College members and academic retirees from other post-secondary institutions may also become Fellows. This allows for a continuous expansion of the Members’ networks and creates fruitful interactions. The Senior College puts also a lot of effort into creating a vibrant academic program: they host weekly lectures, a monthly book club, and a yearly symposium. Various more informal social activities such as Coffee hour discussions and “Meet your colleagues” allow participants to get to know each other on a deeper level (UOFT n.d). The key feature of SC is the diversity of career backgrounds of its Members and Fellows and the range of perspectives this diversity brings, and this positively impacts the culture within the College.

To battle the negative effects of incorporating technology in the Senior College, the program emphasizes in-person contact, while also enabling hybrid methods for those who are unable to join meetings or seminars physically. Older generations can face many issues while functioning in a technological environment, but senior colleges around the world can make the learning experience less challenging by, for example, providing comprehensive training sessions and workshops specifically tailored to older learners to familiarize them with technology basics such as using computers, navigating the internet, and accessing online resources, and by selecting user-friendly learning management systems and online platforms with intuitive interfaces that are easy for older learners to navigate. The Senior College of University of Toronto uses accessibility features like big text size and contrast on their website, which is very considerate.

The Senior College of UoT is heavily dependent on volunteers because the College has only one paid member of staff, the College Administrator. As stated on their website, Chairs and Members of committees are expected to play a major role in organizing the College’s academic programs (UOFT n.d). However, having faculty is not necessary because the members of SC have already obtained an extensive academic background and professional experience from different fields. The program therefore does not require “a teaching staff”, but rather a facilitation of knowledge exchange and cultivation, which the weekly seminars, book clubs, and community provide.

The Senior College of the University of Toronto prides itself on the continuous support and stimulation of the intellectual interests that its senior students receive from participation (UOFT n.d). In addition to intellectual stimulation, members of the Senior College benefit from the educational activities in a myriad of ways. The social interactions that the senior students get to enjoy whilst connecting with like-minded people are very valuable, and it’s a great way to battle loneliness, for example. The program also enables the members to continue personal growth and expand their knowledge, skills, and perspectives even at an elderly age. It also provides them with a way to preserve ties to their old Academic Institutions and to contribute to their success by sharing their knowledge and expertise. Ultimately, engaging in educational activities gives seniors a sense of purpose and fulfillment during their retirement years, and also helps them structure their days, and keeps them mentally and socially active by making meaningful contributions to society.

 

  • Case study 3. National Silver Academy

In the third case study we will be looking into National Silver Academy. The Council for Third Age, is an agency in Singapore that was created in May of 2007 to promote active aging through outreach, public education and partnerships. The Council for Third Age works with and through partners to assist third agers to age well. The Council for Third Age is the administrator of the National Silver Academy. The National Silver Academy is a network of post-secondary educational institutions and community-based organizations which provide different learning opportunities for seniors. 

 

So that senior learners are able to continue learning through their lives, it is important to be aware of the varied learning characteristics and needs, as well as the challenges that senior learners may face. This awareness is important to create an inclusive and supportive learning environment that includes everyone.

Senior learners are a diverse group with different needs. Some of these needs can be connected to their personal learning style and attitudes, while others can be connected to their physical energy levels.

 

Senior learners can face difficulties in learning if their needs are not taken into account. Common challenges can impact negatively their learning, by slowing down progress and even demotivating seniors from continuing to learn. It is important to recognize and understand these challenges and that senior learners may have a combination of these challenges.

Most common challenges faced by senior learners:

Structural challenge

  •   Lack of background skills, technical skills or devices.
  •   Not being able to keep up with the pace of the class.
  •   Not being able to practice and apply the learned skills.
  •   Not being familiar with digital skills.

Physical challenges

  •   The loss of flexibility.
  •   Poor information retention.
  •   Shorter attention span.
  •   Being prone to fatigue.

Emotional challenges

  •   Fear of speaking up.
  •   Low self-esteem.
  •   Lack of learning resources and skills
  •   Lack of motivational support.

(Singapore University of Social Sciences & Council for Third Age, 2021)

 

Different teaching methodologies can be used to try to mitigate the affect of the different challenges that senior learners may face, to ensure that there is a positive learning experience.

The delivery and the course materials have to be developed already thinking that senior learners are going to be the recipients. Aging might be accompanied by biological changes such as deterioration of the eyesight, the simple adaptation of using larger font sizes, familiar fonts, including appropriate visuals and colour coding for different contents can help with its readability, also if senior learners find it uncomfortable to read online or hard to access the content, providing printed copies, of course, materials can be an good solution. The people delivering the content to the senior learners can also make an effort to not speed things up too much and have opportunities to summarise the main points so that senior learners can recap what has just been learned. These general suggestions can be used in different situations, whether a class is only for seniors or for a mix of seniors and young adults. (Singapore University of Social Sciences & Council for Third Age, 2021)

 

The National Silver Academy and the Council for Third Age have established many partnerships and collaborations with governmental and private entities. One collaboration is with the Vintage Radio SG, where was produced a four-part podcast series titled “Generations Connected”, with the intent to boost intergenerational bonding through different subjects such as music, lingo, cybersecurity, scams, and food while also a weekly music segment was developed featuring carefully chosen nostalgic music. (Council for Third Age, 2023)

 

Senior learners have different characteristics and specific learning requirements that differ from other demographic groups. To make the most of the learning journey of the senior learners, trainers and practitioners must be aware of their psychological, physical and social realities by adapting the learning experience accordingly. The Council for Third Age and the Singapore University of Social Sciences have made Geragogy Guidelines to improve the learning experience for seniors. A two-hour introductory workshop was made available to teach the main points and best practices to help trainers and practitioners to understand the guidelines and their application. A thousand three hundred and fifty participants have attended the workshop as March of 2023. (Council for Third Age, 2024)

 

The world population is aging. According to the Ministry of health of Singapore, one in four Singaporeans is going to be over the age of sixty years old by 2030. The life expectancy in Singapore according to the Department of Statistics in 2019 was eighty-three years old. These twenty years between sixty and eighty give the opportunity for seniors to take action towards purposeful self-development and contributing to their community. This may involve staying healthy in all senses of the word(mentally, emotionally, physically, and socially), revisiting hobbies, personal passions, contributing to the community, or fulfilling their aspirations throw a meaningful job. Learning through life helps to successfully ageing as it will help seniors to get the necessary knowledge and growth to stay cognitively active and socially active as they enjoy their silver years. (Singapore University of Social Sciences & Council for Third Age, 2021)

The idea to create a senior learning academy in Singapore came in 2015 from receiving feedback from seniors with the wish to utilize more of their time to learn for work and for personal interest. They thought that learning activities would help to keep the mind active and in touch with society and current events. (Council for Third Age, 2024)

 

The National Silver Academy is financed by the government as it is under the action plan for successful aging, organized by the Ministry of Education of Singapore and administered by the Council for Third Age. Also, receive revenue from course fees, the course fees can be subsidized up to fifty percent, but still, it is possible that the senior has to pay part of the course fee. And volunteering, as the volunteers are giving their time and expertise to the organization. 

 

  • Conclusion

Through the case studies of Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement, University of Toronto Senior College, and the National Silver Academy in Singapore, it can be seen the success factors of Senior Universities as for example the importance of cultivating a positive culture, the adaptability of learning materials for the senior students, and the role that key partnerships play on the success of the university. It can also be seen the challenges that this Senior Universities share, like the diverse needs(physical and psychological) of senior students, the funding as there is needed volunteering or governmental help so that the tuition don’t rise to a point where seniors are not able to afford them and the training of staff and volunteers so that they are able to adapt the content and delivery to the senior students, to provide the best learning journey for the Senior Students. As the subject becomes clearer, it can also be seen the value that Senior Universities have for communities around the world and the importance of their success.

 

References 

Harvard. 2024. About Harvard. Read on 2.3.2024. https://www.harvard.edu/about/ 

HILR. 2021. Schedule of Courses. Read on 3.3.2024. https://hilr.dce.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2021/01/HILR_Catalogue_Public_F2018.pdf 

Jacob, L.  2019. The Senior universities students in Portugal and Brazil. Read on 1.3.2024.https://www.researchgate.net/publication/345356460_The_senior_universities_students_in_Portugal_and_Brazil 

Menting, AM. 2021. A Conversation on Aging Research. Read on 2.3.2024.  https://magazine.hms.harvard.edu/articles/conversation-aging-research

Yousey, X. 2021. In-Person and Emergency Remote Learning: An Examination of the Perceptions and Experiences of Seniors at Harvard University. Read on 1.3.2024. https://husrhe.fas.harvard.edu/files/undergraduate-research-into-higher-education/files/xaley_yousey_research_paper.pdf 

Rahill, B. 6 Tips for Teaching Tech to Older Learners. Coursestorm.com. Read on 3.3.2024. 6 Tips for Teaching Tech to Older Learners – CourseStorm

University of Toronto, Senior College. N.d. About Us. Read on 1.3.2024. About Us – Senior College (utoronto.ca)

Council for Third Age. 2023. C3A Year-In-Review  FY2022. Read on 1.3.2024. https://www.c3a.org.sg/FY22Review/ 

Council for Third Age. 2024. National Silver Academy, administered by c3a. Read on 1.3.2024 https://www.c3a.org.sg/ 

Singapore University of Social Sciences and Council for Third Age. 2021. Geragogy Guidelines. Read on 1.3.2024 https://nsa-app.s3-ap-southeast-1.amazonaws.com/guideline/GeragogyGuidelines-Singapore.pdf 

Written by Samu Nyqvist, Donné Barendze and Lucas Alvim.

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