From physics to literary studies – older people are spoiled for choice when it comes to senior studies. But they don’t just learn side by side with younger students; they also attend courses designed specifically for them and are involved in outreach to international students.
How about “Dionysus in Greek Imagery” this semester? Or perhaps “Molecular Genetics” or “Internationalization of Law”? Every semester, senior students at the University of Bremen can put together their own personal study program. There are about 600 courses to choose from each year. Apart from a fee for some courses, there are no further participation requirements. The group of about 1,200 people who have registered for the senior studies program during the past two semesters is accordingly diverse. “Most of the students are between 70 and 75, the youngest is 52 and the oldest is 98,” says Jaroslaw Wasik from the Academy of Continuing Education at the University of Bremen. Together with two employees and several student assistants, he organizes the program and provides the older students with advice and support. Many of them used to study themselves – some even to the point of earning a doctorate – and they now make use of the courses to explore new areas of academia. Others are getting to know a university from the inside for the first time because they were denied a degree as young people.
Courses also Offered during Lecture-Free Periods
Classes for senior citizens take place almost all year round. Each year, there are four blocks of courses, during the lecture period and in the semester break. On the one hand, senior students have the opportunity to attend regular seminars and lectures – side by side with younger students. 200 to 250 courses from all faculties are open to seniors each semester. They can choose as many as they want for a participation fee of 140 euros. “The important thing is that the seniors are guests here,” emphasizes Jaroslaw Wasik. Depending on room capacity or the maximum number of participants, sometimes only isolated senior students are admitted.
Additionally, the Academy of Continuing Education offers 30 to 40 courses specifically for seniors every semester and during the semester break. The framework here is relatively flexible: a double lesson on a specific topic is just as possible as a larger seminar spanning several weeks. Jaroslaw Wasik designs this program in consultation with teaching staff members and researchers at the University of Bremen, but also from external institutions. Many of them have been working with the senior studies program for years and appreciate the exchange with their elders. “Here, no one asks what is exam-relevant or how many credit points there are for a class,” says Jaroslaw Wasik. Instead, exciting and passionate discussions are often ignited. “The senior students often bring not only detailed specialist knowledge, but also a lot of life experience, and frequently decisively defend their opinions on social and political issues.”
With their professional and academic expertise, the senior students don’t just contribute as participants. Many of them already have teaching experience. Under the motto “By seniors for seniors,” some of them also volunteer to give seminars themselves.
Navigating the Pandemic with Technical Support
Student assistants help the seniors with technical challenges. This support made it possible for senior students to participate in classes online during the corona pandemic. “When face-to-face contact was not possible, we offered advisory services by phone,” recalls Jaroslaw Wasik.
Senior students volunteer not only in teaching, but also in other contexts. For example, in the “SeniorCitizens,” a group of around 20 seniors who support international students and researchers at the university. They pick them up from the airport or train station, for example, and organize welcome breakfasts, theatre visits, city tours, and excursions. Many of the SeniorCitizens members value talking with the young students about political, historical, or social issues. For them, the exchange with these students broadens their horizons – as does senior studies as a whole.