That age-old problem

February 11, 2000

Does anyone know what the government means by lifelong learning? Clearly it has nothing to do with mature people going to university since 1 still hear the phrase on the lips of ministers when there has been a spectacular decline in mature student numbers over the past two years. Nor can it have anything to do with old- er people getting research positions in higher education since we are expressly barred.

Here are two favourite examples of recent government-sponsored ageism:

* The Royal Society of Edinburgh Research Fellow- ships (Advertisement, THES, January 21): "SEELLD support research fellowships.

Funded by the Scottish Executive Education and Lifelong Learning Department...applicants ... should normally be aged 32 or under...or have between two and six years postdoctoral experience".

* From the British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowships awards application form (available online at http://www.britac.ac.ok/guidc I randf.htmlNoPostdoctoral Fellowships): "Only in very exceptional circumstances are candidates aged over 35 likely to be successful. The aim of the scheme is to help outstanding younger scholars to establish themselves as good candidates for an academic career, and the chances of old er candidates fulfilling this aim are, for the most part, much slimmer than those of younger candidates."

Really? I wonder why?

Replace "older candidates" with women or black people to see what the British Academy's argument really is.

Perhaps there could be a competition for the most impressive piece of circular thinking in government education policy?

Gordon Campbell Jesus College, Oxford

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