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Participation in Education: Mature age people in education and training
For the most part, formal education and training courses aim to equip people with both general and specific knowledge and skills that are likely, ultimately, to be of use in the job market and to enable them to get the type of job they would like. However, some people take education or training courses purely out of personal interest. These can be of a formal nature (e.g. short courses or selected units of courses at educational institutions) or informal (e.g. courses on recreation, personal development, hobbies, crafts, etc.). This article describes participation in work-related training (including formal training courses and on-the-job training) and all formal education (regardless of why it was undertaken), but excludes informal hobby type courses.
Education participation increasing among mature age people
Although in the minority, older students make up a substantial and growing proportion of all students. In 1999, students aged between 35 and 64 years accounted for 18% of all students, up from 15% in 1989.
Even though education participation rates decline dramatically with age, particularly after people reach their early to mid twenties, participation in education is increasing among mature age people. Between 1989 and 1999, education participation rates for people aged 35-64 years increased from 4% to 5% for men and from 6% to 7% for women. With the exception of women aged 55-64 years, education participation rates increased for both men and women in all age groups 35 years and over. In common with younger age groups, the increases among mature age people were greater for women than for men (again with the exception of women aged 55-64 years).
Most older students study part-time
The competing demands of work and family commitments limit the amount of time and energy available for study. These factors not only contribute to lower education participation rates as people get older, but also mean that the vast majority of older students choose to study part-time. In 1999, 83% of older students were studying part-time compared to 45% of those aged 15-34 years. The proportions of older students studying part-time increased from around 80% of those aged 35-44 years to more than 90% of those aged 45-64 years.
Qualifications and field of study
Older students are less likely to study for a recognised qualification than younger students, and more likely to undertake a short certificate course of less than one semester, or selected units of an award course (without the intention of gaining a formal qualification). In 1999, 76% of students aged 35-64 years were studying for a recognised qualification, compared to 94% of students aged 15-34 years. Among older students, men were more likely to be studying for a recognised qualification than women (82% compared to 73%).
Of those students who were studying for a recognised post school qualification in 1999, older students were more likely than younger students to be studying for a postgraduate qualification, an undergraduate or associate diploma, or a basic vocational qualification, but less likely to be studying for a bachelor degree or a skilled vocational qualification.
The most popular broad fields of study among older students in 1999 were: society and culture (undertaken by 30% of older students); and business and administration (28%). Older students were more likely than younger students to be studying for a qualification in the fields of society and culture, business and administration, education, and health but less likely to be studying for a qualification in engineering, architecture and building, or the natural and physical sciences.
Mature age people are much more likely to undertake a work-related training course than a course of formal education. The 1997 Survey of Education and Training found that 45% of 35-44 year olds (who were asked - see ‘Participation in training’ box on this page) had taken one or more training courses in the previous 12 months in order to obtain, maintain or improve work-related skills. However, the proportion declined with age within the 35-64 years group, as did the average number of courses taken.
This general pattern was also evident among those who had been employed in a wage or salary job in the previous 12 months. While 35-44 year olds were more likely than any other age group to have taken an in-house or external training course, or to have received employer support (such as payment for fees or paid study leave) for external training, the proportions declined with age among 35-64 year olds, as did the proportion who received on-the-job training.
For each course completed in the past 12 months, people were asked for specific information about why they had taken each course. For each course taken while employed, people were asked whether or not the course had been taken in order to improve chances of promotion and whether or not it had been taken for retraining. Each course may have been taken for one, both or neither of these reasons. Promotion was reported as a reason for only 7% of courses taken by 35-64 year olds while employed, compared to 12% of courses taken by younger people. Around 40% of all courses taken by 35-64 year olds while employed were for retraining, compared to 47% for those aged under 35 years.
Similarly, for each course taken while not employed, people were asked whether or not it had been taken in order to help find a job. In common with 15-24 year olds, almost 90% of all courses taken by 45-54 year olds, while not employed, were to help get a job. For each course taken while unemployed or marginally attached to the labour force, people who had previously had a job were also asked whether or not the course was for the purpose of retraining. Around 70% of such courses taken by 45-64 year olds were for retraining, about the same as for 15-24 year olds.
Reasons for not studying or taking training courses
The reason most commonly reported by 35-64 year olds for either not studying or not training was that there was no need. This reason was reported by 54% of those who had not taken a training course, and 46% of those who had not studied, in the previous 12 months. The proportion who said that they had no need for study or training increased with age (within the 35-64 years age group), as did the proportion who said they that lacked interest or motivation.
On the other hand, barriers such as lack of time, work, and family commitments, appear to become less important with age (within the 35-64 years age group), as do financial considerations. Overall, reasons such as lack of time; too much work; problems with scheduling work and study or training; caring for family members; or children too young, were reported by 31% of 35-64 year olds who had not studied and 20% of those who had not taken a training course in the previous 12 months.