Graduates from the university of life

David Bell
David Bell
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n The Institute of Lifelong Learning (TILL) is part of the University of Sheffield’s School of Education.

AN 81 year-old, a Maltese lecturer, a full-time mum and a man determined to avoid dementia, Star reporter Rachael Clegg meets some of the University of Sheffield’s more unconventional graduates.

Rima Morris

Rima Morris

THOUSANDS of teenagers will be dreading today.

After a long summer break, it’s back to school.

But while your average 15-year-old is probably counting down the days until he or she leaves school, some people are coming back for more, even at 70-odd years old - almost 55 years after they left first-time around.

Roger Mercer, 79, is one such person.

Marilyn King

Marilyn King

While many pensioners are playing bingo or meeting pals for a cuppa, Roger is more likely to be in the students’ union or the university library. At the sprightly age of 76, Roger decided to go back to university to study a degree in Latin American Studies at the University of Sheffield.

He may have had a free bus pass for almost 20 years, but he’s as enthusiastic as any 21-year-old graduate, if not more so.

“Studying has kept me intellectually active,” says Roger, a retired Sheffield Hallam lecturer in Education Management.

“Older people should study, if they want to, and the facilities are available if they want to do it.”

Josephine Milton

Josephine Milton

Roger graduated from the University of Sheffield this year and his thirst for learning is still not quenched.

“I like to find out why things are as they are and how they change. I have always read a lot and can do research on things that are of interest to me.

“A structured scheme of study takes me into new ideas. Increasingly now my social life tends to revolve around people my own age but doing a course brings you in contact with a wider age range and a wider set of ideas.”

Indeed, research suggests that so-called ‘life-long learners’, such as people who constantly study, research and therefore learn, are less likely to develop conditions such as dementia.

University of Sheffield: The University of Sheffield has over 50 buildings connected to the District Energy Network located throughout Sheffield.

University of Sheffield: The University of Sheffield has over 50 buildings connected to the District Energy Network located throughout Sheffield.

And that’s precisely why 81-year-old graduate Jeff Hynds, from Kent, went back to university at the age of 75 to study for his PhD on Language in Education at the university’s School of Education department.

“I stopped working at 70 but I had friends that retired much earlier than me and didn’t do anything with their time and now they’ve ended up in care homes with dementia. That was my main motivation for going back to university.”

He did it with full zest, graduating with a high grade and a PhD.

And if age isn’t going to be an obstacle to some of the University of Sheffield’s graduates, then geography isn’t, either.

At least not for Josephine Milton, who has just graduated with a PhD from the University of Sheffield. But more impressive is the fact that Josephine completed her PhD while working as a lecturer at the University of Malta.

“It was great because my husband, my son and I came to Sheffield during the summer holidays so I could work and they could have days out. “They’d go to Endcliffe Park and the Botanical Gardens - we’d then spend the evenings together.

Jeff Hynds

Jeff Hynds

But it would have been difficult to do what I’ve done if I had any other job - being a lecturer meant I could spend seven or eight weeks over here.”

Josephine, Roger and Jeff studied as part of the university’s Institute for Lifelong Learning, which encourages retired or working people to study in higher education by accommodating their needs and offering flexible courses. Marilyn King, 46, from Handsworth, found this attitude particularly helpful. As a mother of two and a full-time council worker, studying for a degree required a lot of juggling. “It’s been great - I’ve really enjoyed doing it but it’s been really hard work. I’d work at night time after I’d put the kids to bed and then do a day’s work the next day, I was shattered a lot of the time but it’s been worth it. I’ve graduated with a first class honours degree in Community Policy and Practice.”

Rimas Morris, who lives near Nether Edge but is originally from Kenya, also graduated with a BA in Community Policy and Practice, a course that directly reflected her work in Sheffield as a education officer helping children understand cultural differences between the developed world and the developing world.

“It’s really interesting work, and the course will really help. I went to one school recently and one of the children said: “I thought black people were made of chocolate” - it’s fascinating learning about other people’s perceptions of different cultures.

“Many of the children asked me if I was from Haiti because of seeing Haiti on the news and then associating black people only with Haiti. But my job is about raising cultural awareness, and the course will help that. It has been brilliant and I couldn’t believe it when I came out with a 2:1.”

Clearly age, geography and family circumstances are no barrier to going back to learning if you’ve got the grit and dedication to stick it out. But it’s worth it - dementia deterrent and passport to progress - qualifications can only enhance a person’s potential, though it may take today’s begrudging teenagers 60 years to realise that.

Roger Mercer

Roger Mercer