University of Leicester leads new European study into learning and older people

The University of Leicester will this week host the launch of a new European project called MATURE which stands for Making Adult Teaching Useful, Relevant and Engaging. It will last for two years until late 2014.

The partners will be arriving in Leicester on Monday 4 February with their business meeting arranged for Tuesday and Wednesday. This will involve detailed discussions on how to take the project forward, the research being undertaken, and the development of the written training programme.

On Thursday 7 February the MATURE partners will take part in a conference on ‘Why does Learning Matter for Older Adults’. This has been organised by LeicesterShire Learning Networks (LSLN) and will take place at the University with participants drawn from across Leicestershire and beyond. Members of the MATURE partnership will speak at the conference which will consider themes such as ‘learning and the ageing society’, ‘the benefits of learning’ and ‘what promotes active ageing?’.

MATURE is a European multilateral project funded by the European Union. It aims to research and develop the best ways of realising the benefits of learning for older people and of reaching out to isolated older people to enable them to take part in adult education opportunities.

The co-ordinator is Professor John Benyon from the Institute of Lifelong Learning at the University of Leicester ( He said ‘A key goal of MATURE is to find ways to overcome age-related barriers to learning, in particular those caused by health, dependency, cultural and/or attitudinal factors. We are planning to develop ideas and training for educators and teachers to enable them to reach older people who don’t take part and to provide interesting learning opportunities. In short, we want to find ways to make adult teaching useful, relevant and engaging’.

The study has the following aims:
• To analyse barriers to engagement with learning faced by older adults
• To seek examples of good practice in engaging hard-to-reach older adults from national, European and international sources
• To explore the role of intermediary agencies, organisations and individuals in supporting older people to take action
• To develop face-to-face and online training for learning providers both paid and voluntary
• To develop advice and guidance for intermediaries to support advocacy for learning

The project involves partners from eight European countries including Austria, Germany, Greece, Poland, Slovenia and Switzerland as well as the United Kingdom. The UK group at the University of Leicester involves a team made up of research fellows Pauline Swanton and Jim Soulsby, and administrator Jo Leadbetter, as well as Professor John Benyon.

Pauline Swanton said: ‘One of the goals of MATURE is to help raise standards of practice throughout Europe. As well as research into later-life learning and the barriers that older people face, the planned activities include analysing what lessons can be learned from different European experiences, writing, testing and refining training materials and putting the results into practice. We plan to promote this work through publications, the internet and a conference’.

The University of Leicester’s Institute of Lifelong Learning has established an international reputation for work in the field of older people and lifelong learning. It is also leading another European project called ForAge, with partners from 16 European countries. 

Professor Benyon said: ‘Learning is of central importance for maintaining independence and general well-being in later life. Many different benefits arise for older people who participate in learning activities. Our MATURE project aims to examine the most effective ways of realising the benefits of learning for older people and of promoting these activities for wider numbers of people. We also hope to persuade politicians and policy makers that greater investment in learning opportunities for older people would pay real dividends in Britain and throughout Europe’.