Col­lege ‘lot­tery’ ran­kles el­derly learn­ers

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By ZHANG YU in Shi­ji­azhuang zhangyu1@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Teng Jun­y­ing has no idea what 2017 will hold if she fails to win a spot at He­bei Univer­sity for the Aged, a gov­ern­ment-funded school for se­nior ci­ti­zens.

The 57-year-old has spent the past two years in the univer­sity’s class­rooms, learn­ing to sing and dance, but she fears a change to its ad­mis­sions pol­icy could leave her dis­ap­pointed.

“It feels like a lot­tery,” she said, re­fer­ring to the an­nounce­ment that ap­pli­ca­tions for its 4,000 places will now be de­cided at ran­dom.

The school, es­tab­lished in 1987 in Shi­ji­azhuang, cap­i­tal of He­bei prov­ince, pre­vi­ously op­er­ated on a first-come first­served ba­sis, which re­sulted in long lines form­ing out­side the ad­mis­sions of­fice.

“More peo­ple want to study at the school,” said Li Lin, who works in the ad­mis­sions of­fice, es­pe­cially as from next year, the school will waive all tu­ition fees, part of ef­forts to en­cour­age more el­derly ci­ti­zens back into ed­u­ca­tion.

The school has re­ceived more than 20,000 ap­plica- mil­lon tions since the be­gin­ning of De­cem­ber, Li said. “The new se­lec­tion method is to make sure each ap­pli­cant has an equal chance.”

Yet the news has Teng con­cerned. She has suc­cess­fully been able to en­roll for two con­sec­u­tive years be­cause she was will­ing to line up ear­lier than other ap­pli­cants.

“El­derly peo­ple to­day are ea­ger to learn new things, to en­rich our men­tal health and to kill time af­ter re­tire­ment,” she said.

Teng re­tired at 50 years old and spent five years help­ing her daugh­ter raise a child, which made her feel use­ful. “But my grand­son no longer needs daily care, so I have a lot of time to kill.”

Study­ing at the univer­sity, which of­fers 21 cour­ses rang­ing from danc­ing to calligraphy and im­age de­sign, “made me feel en­er­getic and young”, she said, adding that if she does not earn a place, she has no idea what she will do in­stead.

She is not alone. Lyu Ping­hai, 60, who re­tired from his job as an en­gi­neer last month, sub­mit­ted an ap­pli­ca­tion to the school on Wed­nes­day. “I can’t bear that I have noth­ing to do ev­ery day,” he said.

Al­though ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tutes for the el­derly have de­vel­oped over the past 30 years or so, with at now least one in ev­ery county and city, de­mand still ex­ceeds sup­ply, said Lyu Bingx­ing, vice-pres­i­dent of the He­bei col­lege.

“De­vel­op­ment needs to catch up with the rapid rate of ag­ing in our pop­u­la­tion,” he said.

China had 222 mil­lion peo­ple aged 60 or older in 2015, ac­count­ing for 16 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to an ed­u­ca­tion de­vel­op­ment plan for se­nior ci­ti­zens re­leased by the State Coun­cil in Oc­to­ber. The num­ber is fore­cast to reach 243 mil­lion in 2020.

Cur­rently, 3.2 per­cent of el­derly peo­ple, more than 7 mil­lion, are study­ing at schools or other in­sti­tu­tions. The plan sets a tar­get to in­crease that to 20 per­cent within five years.

num­ber of se­nior ci­ti­zens aged 60 or older in China last year

ZHANG YU/CHINA DAILY

Se­nior ci­ti­zens talk dur­ing a calligraphy class at He­bei Univer­sity for the Aged.

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