China Focus: China embraces boom in silver-haired students


By: Xinhua

Published: 2022-11-09 14:56

The autumn admissions period has seen stiff competition for places at Chinese educational institutions for the aged, with many elderly people joining queues or applying online within the first few minutes -- only to be disappointed.


"The slots are gone in a flash," said an applicant surnamed Liu from Shenyang, capital of northeast China's Liaoning Province.


The demand for continuing education has skyrocketed in recent years in China, driven by factors including supportive policies, demographic shifts and a rising aspiration among the elderly to enjoy a better quality of life, according to several heads of educational institutions for seniors.


Some attend these classes to gain a deeper understanding of certain topics, some to acquire new skills such as Chinese calligraphy and painting, while others are keen to pursue their unfulfilled dreams.


In addition to gaining knowledge, joining such institutions also helps the elderly to make friends, said Ye Nanke, vice principal of a university for the elderly in Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu Province.


Wang Rongqing, from Changzhou in Jiangsu, signed up for calligraphy, painting, literature and other courses at the local university for the elderly. Meanwhile, a 62-year-old "empty-nester" from Hebei surnamed Li said she made new friends, whose company she enjoys both in classes and on trips to the shops.


"The establishment of a university for the elderly needs to meet certain conditions," said Li Chunhua, deputy secretary-general of the China Association of the Universities for the Aged (CAUA). These include classroom space and teaching staff that are suitable for seniors, as well as the approval of relevant authorities, said Li.


By the end of 2019, there were about 76,000 universities and colleges for the elderly in China, compared with 62,000 in 2017, according to a report on the development of education for the elderly released by the CAUA.


Not all of them are in urban areas, with such institutions now expanding to smaller communities. In recent years, many provinces across the country, like Jiangsu, Hubei and Shandong, have set up branch campuses of universities for the elderly in towns and villages.


In Yingshan County, central China's Hubei Province, a campus administrator for a university for the elderly said that, in the past, all the students had to attend the main campus at the county level, which was a long journey for those in remote areas. However, with the establishment of branch schools in the towns, elderly people from rural locations now have a shorter journey and better access to education.


The curriculum has also been updated and improved over time.


"In the past, the curriculum was mostly limited to art classes, but this is no longer the case," said an elderly student from the city of Changzhou in Jiangsu.


From drone photography to basic law to video editing, elderly Chinese people across the country can make their selection from an expanded range of topics. Practical options such as training in smartphone use and financial fraud prevention are on the list.


The potential of this undertaking is huge. By the end of 2021, there were 267 million people aged 60 or above in China, and the number is expected to exceed 300 million by 2025. Grasping the demographic trends, China has introduced a raft of measures to broaden senior citizens' access to education.


In its 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), the country has outlined an array of measures to boost the education for the aged, including building a national university for the aged with the Open University of China as a basis and supporting schools that meet the relevant standards in taking part in elderly education initiatives.


The report to the recently-concluded 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China said that China will "pursue a proactive national strategy in response to population aging, and develop elderly care programs and services."


According to a document released by the State Council in August, the country aims to establish at least one university for the elderly in every county-level region by 2025.


With the vigorous development of education for the elderly, some private education and training institutions have launched paid courses for seniors, effectively boosting educational resources and expanding the market.