In the second half of the eighties, the idea of a university in the third phase of life (university in the third age) came over from France to Holland. These are higher education programs for people – usually older people – who for some reason want to catch up and still expand their horizons.
Higher Education for the Elderly (HOVO) gained a foothold at Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) about thirty years ago. Success: Over the years, many thousands of course participants have followed lectures and courses from a richly varied range. With great pleasure, as evaluations have shown. Topics from almost all scientific fields were covered. A few course titles for illustration: The Social Man: From Me to We, Recent Advances in Cardiology, The History of the American Indian and Science as the mind’s journey of discovery†
The courses were given in Dutch and there were no prior training requirements. It created a form of education with a barely equal form of inclusion, where people with vastly different backgrounds gathered and came into contact with each other in the same classroom. It was therefore an activity that made a significant contribution to issues that are explicitly demanded in the current social and political debate: aging with dignity and the fight against loneliness. In addition: less able HOVO students could appeal financially to the Friends of HOVO Rotterdam Foundation.
Past! At least in Rotterdam: the offer of HOVO was severely terminated a few months ago – during the current academic year. The disappointment is evident from the many reactions that have come. Thousands of elderly people from Rotterdam and the surrounding area will miss the opportunity for a new window to people and the world.
It must be emphasized that this does not only concern the individual student, but that there is a broader social interest in gambling. Confidence in science is under pressure, the dividing line between truth and falsehood threatens to be blurred, false news is widespread. It is certainly now part of the social task of higher education institutions to help many people gain a solid understanding of scientific thinking and of the results it provides.
Financial issues played a role in the death of HOVO Rotterdam. The activity in question was embedded in the Erasmus Academy, a private company with the usual profit motive. Although affiliated with Erasmus University, it is not directly controlled by the Executive Board.
Over the years, thousands of students have participated in lectures from a richly varied offering
This set-up did not work well from an economic point of view: it proved impossible to get the budget in order permanently. The economic problems became acute due to the corona pandemic, which led to the abrupt closure of HOVO Rotterdam. It is striking that this type of education is maintained elsewhere, such as in Amsterdam (VU), Brabant, Groningen / Leeuwarden, Leiden and Utrecht. All these HOVOs chose a different organizational structure than in Rotterdam.
The Executive Board of Erasmus University is of the opinion that rules from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) create a barrier to maintaining HOVO-Rotterdam in its current form. It would be concluded from a guideline issued by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science that a private activity of the type Rotterdam HOVO may not be financed by public funds. Support for modest size – all in all – would also not be allowed. All in all because, for example, full room rent is charged, which is a significant cost item in light of the great interest in the HOVO courses.
Everyone can decide for themselves how such an attitude, attributed to the government, relates to what is preached in politics about the place of the elderly in society. It should, in my opinion, be university boards a block should oppose.
It is my firm belief that an approach can also be found in Rotterdam that ‘works’. One can think of the form of foundation as it is used in Utrecht. But also a connection with the currently strongly foreign idea of ’lifelong learning’. An idea that also seems to be reflected in the master plan ‘Ouder & Wijzer’ from Rotterdam municipality.
Initiatives for a viable restart of HOVO-like education in Rotterdam are currently being developed. It is hoped that Erasmus University will lend a helping hand in this regard. For a university that The erasmic way highly regarded and create a positive impact on society as a widely publicized slogan, that is to say – to put it even in English – actually one must†
Harm Bart is Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Erasmus University and has previously been involved with HOVO in Rotterdam