Student - October 13, 2011

Mature students: never too old to learn

Text:
Gastredacteur

Mature students are fanatical, exceptionally motivated and know exactly what they are aiming for. Who are these older students and what are they hoping to find in the lecture halls at their age? Resource looked some of them up.

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Name: Hendrik van der Honing (64)
Degree: M.Sc. in Organic Agriculture

‘I want to do something for people, society and the environment'
‘My grandchildren thought it rather strange that Granddad was starting school in September as well. Then I explained that Granddad thinks it is important to keep developing intellectually and that I am motivated by my urge to do something for people, society and the environment. A kind of modern-day Calvinist. It is nothing new to me to be older than other students; when I started the Environmental Protection course at Wageningen in 1975 I had already been working for ten years. I was probably one of the few married students and I was certainly the only one with a child seat on my bike.
I worked for many years in various jobs but I still had these burning questions: Why is biodiversity in decline? Why is there hunger in the world? I decided to return to college to consider these questions in more depth. There are enormous differences between then and now - a course with fifty students and twenty different nationalities, wonderful! All these students are incredibly motivated and are full of good ideas. The field has evolved and the amount of knowledge has grown. For instance, in the past we didn't know that the base ammonia acidifies the soil whereas now that is basic knowledge.'

Name: Wout van Orten-Luiten (52)
Degree: M.Sc. in Nutrition and Health

‘Fellow students were shocked by my age'
‘I noticed when I was working as a vet that I didn't always know how to help the animals. I kept taking refresher courses to learn more about veterinary science but I found it simply was not enough. There just wasn't enough information about nutrition in particular. My husband pointed out the Nutrition and Health degree in Wageningen. After wavering for a long time, I finally decided to go for it even if the degree dealt with people rather than animals.
It was an enormous change, especially in the first year. I had had my own practice for years and now all of a sudden I was a student who had to study books. I had to cut back on my social life as not only did I have my study and all the travelling, I also had a family that needed my attention. It did feel strange the first time in a lecture room. Fellow students were shocked by my age at first. But now I too get e-mails and text messages with invites.
A lot has changed since I studied veterinary science. In the past you had to do everything by hand and it took ages to find information about a single subject. Now you just start up your computer. That certainly took some getting used to for me but I really enjoy learning new things.'

Name: Evelyne van Dongen (46)
Degree: M.Sc. in Management Economics and Consumer Studies

‘They prefer to choose someone their own age'
‘This is not my first time studying in Wageningen. In 1987 I got an HBO degree in Facility Management and went to work for a bank. After my pregnancy I did a gardening course and that is how I ended up as a teacher in secondary vocational education. However, I noticed I needed more of an intellectual challenge. I was particularly interested in what direction the Netherlands should take, which is why eventually I would like to work in policy after completing this degree.
I teach about four days a week in addition to my studies. That requires considerable perseverance and smart scheduling because the system really isn't set up to cater for part-time studies. Fortunately I have the full support of my family. My daughters in particular think it's great. I had really had enough in the summer and would have liked to stop but they persuaded me to keep going. That is also one of the reasons why I am doing this: I want to set a good example to my daughters.
I am used to being among younger people through my teaching. I don't feel old when I'm with my pupils nor when I'm at the university. I do see that my fellow students sometimes have difficulty with it. For instance, recently I did a Bachelor's module and we had to form study groups. Then they prefer to choose someone their own age, but really I am just as inexperienced as they are.'

Name: André Eshuis (54)
Degree: Coastal and Marine Management (full-time) and Sustainable Water Technology (part-time) at VHL Leeuwarden

‘I have been a carpenter, nurse and software developer'
‘My decision to go back to university this year was partly inspired by my children: they are open to new experiences and are full of wonder about the world. My first university experience was a foundation year in philosophy at the VU University Amsterdam. I have had lots of different jobs since then, including working as a carpenter, nurse and software developer. I think it is important to keep developing and to maintain your capacity to marvel at things. My choice of degree was based on my interest in this field but also on its wider significance for society. The sea is something we know little about. Even so, we are still polluting it and as a result, much of the sea's potential is being lost. The sea should be a source of life, energy, food and beauty.
I am struck by the changes over the years in how knowledge is transmitted. In the past it was mainly a question of listening but now the emphasis is on interaction. Younger students are sometimes surprised to see an older student but they soon get used to it. I don't think there is a direct link between age and wisdom. I think it is important to follow your heart when choosing a course as that way you get enthusiastic professionals.'

Lifelong learning
So-called ‘lifelong learning' was a particular obsession of the former Minister of Education, Ronald Plasterk. He thought it was unfair for people aged thirty or older to have to pay higher tuition fees. So he abolished that restriction and paid for it by getting rid of the funding for a second degree. These measures came into effect last year and this year respectively.
However, that has not yet led to a rush of mature students. There are currently 13 people aged 50 or above studying at Wageningen University, mainly Master's students. That is hardly any different to the past five years. They are to be found doing various degree courses. There are 37 people over 50 at Van Hall Larenstein. Most of the students at the applied science university are doing a part-time course.
One reason given for the lack of older students taking courses at Wageningen UR is the small number of part-time degrees. Various faculties are now looking to see whether they can do something about that.
Mariska van den Berg and Ruben Higler

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