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The answer to this question is obviously yes and I wonder how much we will have progressed by this time next year. The main problem still seems to be the lack of involvement of older people. I firmly believe that we will never make worthwhile progress until research is not just done on older people but with older people. We older people seem to be treated like aliens, living on the same planet but with no communication between us. The sad part is that researchers don’t seem to realise that later in their lives they too will join the aliens and be outcasts!

The other evening I happened to stumble on a TV program discussing the latest research on ageing, with the presenter herself an elderly journalist in her 70’s. How refreshing. She could, and did, ask all the questions older people have on this topic. The program included long-running research such as the nun’s study as well as more recent work such as the effect of exercise comparing walking with table tennis. The latter created a problem as it was difficult to isolate the effect of the physical activity and the socialising that accompanied it. More recent work such as the effect on the brain of zapping US soldiers whilst using computers and the effect of injecting older mice with blood from younger mice was also shown. I’m not sure how practical these procedures would be for older people no matter how beneficial! At least we could find out through this TV program what is going on.

To me the big weakness of the present situation is its apparent lack of practicality. Research tends to be on the ageing brain or on the ageing body with no acknowledgement that the two are connected. We are beginning to realise how widespread depression is in the general community and how life threatening this is and how it affects almost every aspect of life, yet with older people we don’t even seem to be off the ground looking at this aspect of ageing. The ‘alien’ viewpoint seems to be that these people are going to die anyway so why worry? Nobody seems to look on older people as a huge resource if allowed to function to the best of their ability, both mentally and physically.

No where is this more visible than facing another year with conferences on ageing without the ageing! Many, if not most, conferences give cost reductions to student participants but not retirees. The message is that students, with no experience of ageing, are more valuable participants than the real experts, older people themselves. Every year I hope that the situation will change but every year the ‘alien’ culture continues.

I don’t think that the big breakthrough in research into ageing will occur until researchers take their blinkers off and see older people as a valuable resource in many aspects of life, and abandon their current ‘alien’ attitude. For any researcher who really wants to make their mark the door is ready to be opened.

 

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This is one commodity we do not usually measure in world terms yet perhaps doing so would be useful. The main problem would be how to measure it as one person’s definition might be very different from that of another, even from a similar background.

The question arose for me this week when one of our government ministers who, up until then had seemed to me upright and honest and working in Australia’s best interests, was exposed buying an investment property whilst on a government trip and then getting taxpayers to pay for the trip.

The murky details are still emerging but there are enough so far to show the huge gap between the vast majority of Australians and our politicians. How can the latter make decisions for the good of the country when they constantly distance themselves from most of us? They sit on a pedestal for a short period of time then disappear into obscurity, suggesting that what they had to offer at the time was of limited value.

Is this really how we want our leaders to operate? The current situation seems to be for people with limited talent to wriggle themselves into a situation in which they can exercise a bit of power for a while, improve their own financial situation, then wriggle back down again. Their personal new level of financial comfort satisfies them that they did ok.

Is this why we don’t seem to have a political party dedicated to achieving a country which is equitable for more and allowing everyone a chance to succeed? We had the sad spectacle at Xmas of seeing the PM serving meals, provided, prepared and paid for by others, to needy people. What a better world we could all look forward to if instead he had sat down with these people and talked to them about what it would take to make their lives more productive and liveable. That would really have meant Xmas.

We need a new category of politician for whom success should be measured more in terms of what they can do to for all citizens, helping them to achieve to the best of each individuals ability, not by the number of new assets each can purchase. We are an impoverished country if that is how our politicians measure their success.

We need to create a political party which has its sights set on Australia’s achievements, giving every citizen the opportunity to achieve, particularly the younger ones. We don’t need political parties in which members are engaged in self aggrandisement and self-enrichment. We need honesty in politicians.

 

 

 

I am sure that I am not the only person in Australia who is concerned about what seems to be a continuing debate concerning our higher education system, a debate which I feel is based on all the wrong, and inaccurate, assumptions.

I believe very strongly that the first priority in any country should be its education system, from Kindergarten to Ph. D. students. I believe that this should top all other demands on a country’s resources, followed closely by health, although the two are intertwined. The current debate centres on higher education, who can access it and how much it is going to cost them as individuals. The politicians seem to feel that there is no problem with expecting graduate students to enter the workforce with a huge debt if Universities, and the fees they can charge, are deregulated. It doesn’t seem to enter the heads of politicians that deterring bright and competent students from embarking on a degree because they feel they can do better in life without that huge debt is a problem in terms of  a lost resource. They confidently say that they will back students from a low sociological background by providing scholarships for them but we have not been given any details of this. The government should have details about how many students which fit this descriptor are currently in the system and how much it would cost to provide them all with scholarships. This is a very necessary part of the argument and it is interesting that this doesn’t seem to have been costed or such a detail publicised.

The other side of the issue, the motives of the Universities, is also a murky area. They seem to feel that deregulation would attract better staff and better research but again this argument does not appear to be substantiated. We would need to know what does attract good quality staff. It is hard to believe that they are entirely motivated by money. I would have thought that the research environment, quality colleagues and quality management would also appear in the equation. I need convincing that top research staff are only attracted and motivated by money. I wonder if quality Vice-Chancellors attract their own staff followers who primarily require a positive environment in which to pursue their goals .

With 5 degrees under my belt, both from overseas and Australia, my impression is that standards are deteriorating  because Universities, at least in Australia, are failing to attract top staff because of an amateur working and research environment, and inadequate management. Being able to offer staff more money in this situation is unlikely to attract quality staff.

The Minister himself seems to have had minimum personal contact with Universities, with only an undergraduate degree and post-graduate diploma, nearly a quarter of a century ago. Most of his working life has been spent in the peculiar and limited atmosphere of politics. This hardly makes him an expert on our Universities.

Optimum economic growth with all its benefits, professionally distributed, is the key to a country’s success. This can only be achieved if the potential of all its people can be liberated. It also involves talented and knowledgeable leadership. That seems to be what is currently missing.

My request to have my Visiting Fellowship at the local university renewed was refused so I am currently out in limbo as far as affiliation goes. I am left wondering how important this is.

Last year I presented 3 papers at an international conference in India, all of which were well received. I would have thought that this alone would be good publicity for the University, where it counts, as I was the only speaker from the University at the conference. I also had 4 abstracts accepted for a conference in Dublin but as they were only accepted as posters I withdrew. People attending conferences are usually too busy listening to speakers, or networking in meal breaks to wander around reading and looking at posters. Two abstracts I submitted for a regional conference were accepted and I have been asked to combine them for a plenary presentation.

This year I have submitted 1 abstract for an international conference in Thailand and will submit 2 or 3 for a national conference. It is going to be interesting to see to what extent my current lack of affiliation affects acceptance rates. I suspect that even conferences where abstracts are viewed ‘blind’ include affiliation, but not qualifications, which I find a strange situation. No doubt I’ll find out when we are notified of acceptances.

I am still concerned at what happens to academics and other senior people who retire and sever communication with their former workplace. Occasionally those in the public eye will be called back to head a panel reviewing a particular issue but what happens to the rest and what happens to these people when this project finishes? Are their brains supposed to just shut down for the rest of the time they are on this planet?

In my case keeping my research in the public eye has never been a problem. I have always intended to publish my research in book form so that it can reach a combined audience of older people and, hopefully, those involved with this group, either as academics or providers. Now that I have lost my affiliation I think that the papers I intended to publish in academic circles will also have to follow this book publication route which is probably a plus as it will also be more widely available. The major problem is finding a publisher but this is not a new situation. Harry Potter was rejected many times before being accepted, and then only for a minimum run. Beatrix Potter had to initially self publish before Peter Rabbit went to commercial publication. She had the extra complication of being a female author at a time when it was a field which was off-limits to women.

Meanwhile is the academic world content with the current graveyard approach to those who were formerly making a huge contribution to the world’s knowledge base but no longer appear to have a role? This seems to be a huge waste.

For the past year, since retiring and graduating, I have been a Fellow at one of our local Universities. The promises made, such as being involved in at least 2 pieces of their research into ageing (my field), and involvement in a developing aged care facility, didn’t materialise. All I was left with was access to the University library so that I could look up journals with a view to publishing some of my research. I spent the first half of the year putting my research into book form and submitting it to publishers, so far unsuccessfully. Sometimes this can be a good sign. Harry Potter is notorious not only for being a best seller but for the number of rejections it had first! Consequently I have only just approached the subject of getting published professionally. I have also presented papers at conferences, including 3 such presentations at an International conference in India which were well received and supported. I would have thought that promotional activities like this for the University should have more than outweighed the cost of providing me with a library card!
Are Universities in Australia so concerned with the bottom line financially that they have lost the sight of their purpose, which should be to promote knowledge and further it? This should be their first and last objective. Instead of that they seem to be almost entirely consumed with costs and how to retrieve them. The University described above has embraced one of the local male sports teams to bring attention to itself! Knowledge and research no longer seem to be important. As one who got my first degree, and has been involved in some form with Universities, both in Australia and overseas, for over 50 years I am far from impressed.
The world exists, and can only flourish, on knowledge. Part of that knowledge is involvement with physical activities but there are plenty of expert areas which can take care of that, not Universities which seem to be prepared to sacrifice knowledge and learning in more mainstream academic areas to be involved.
I did apply for a similar position as Fellow at one of our more respected Universities. They didn’t even do me the courtesy of responding.
So where does that leave me and my research? One major provider of ageing health care, with a number of sites, has already adopted my research as part of its philosophy so it is already being effective. I will continue with my research and hope to promote it, both through presentations at national and international conferences, and I will start publishing professionally as an individual.
Aged health and lifestyle should be more about keeping the target group fit and healthy and contributing to society, rather than how we can manage increasing costs in this field, particularly when ignoring research findings are adding to these costs. Universities should be about more than just assisting a local male football team to have a successful season.

I have just returned from a trip to India and was absolutely appalled at the sexism I encountered. What surprised me in particular was the fact that I was staying in top ranked hotels so that the people I was meeting were India’s business and executive people. I have been fighting ageism for so long I guess I thought we were well on the way to eliminating sexism but apparently not in some countries.
I realised that at one stage during my trip I had gone for 6 days without meeting with, and having a conversation with, another woman. Quite a few of the hotels didn’t seem to employ female staff. Even the tour company I was travelling with apparently had a couple of female employees but I only had male guides and drivers. Worse still they often sat in the front of the car chattering to themselves and ignoring me in the back which I thought was particularly rude considering I was paying for their services!
There is absolutely no sense in this highly competitive age in trying to run a business or country using only half of the population’s talents and ideas. No country can hope to compete based on such a policy.
India’s record of frequent rape and murder of women was suddenly explained when I realised the extent to which the country devalues this half of its population.
The country faces really difficult problems in its poverty which means that so many of its citizens are unable to contribute to its wealth and well-being. In addition it has a huge land mass with often difficult terrain making progress in these areas hard to achieve.
What makes the present attitude so difficult to accept is that I was living in the world of business and other leaders. Anyone who believes that women are not as intelligent and capable as men is pretty thick themselves and therefore not very capable. These are the top business leaders and other decision makers. India has to catch up with the rest of the developed world by realising that its wealth and prosperity lies with all its people, with their ideas and intelligence.
Towards the end of my trip I realised that I was beginning to accept the philosophy of those around me. When I saw a man coming anything like my direction I found myself automatically stepping out of the way. Time to get out!

There has been a lot of talk recently in Australia about spending more money on schools which in theory is an excellent idea but in practice has many flaws, particularly in light of current policy. Firstly the money is to come largely from University funding, taking it away from this sector without any thought given to the outcomes of this. As someone pointed out this means enabling more young people to get to University but when they get there the Universities won’t have the money to cope with them.
There are other flaws too. No-one with on the ground experience seems to have really looked at the current flaws in the way schools carry out their business. One of the biggest problems when I was teaching in schools was that as teachers we were required to do more and more of the parenting. I suspect that this is an inevitable consequence of more women being encouraged to resume their careers instead of parenting, particularly single parents who often have no choice. I am all in favour of this but society needs to recognise it and address it. The role of parents in schools needs to move from being thought of by some teachers as an unnecessary evil but rather as a school asset. It needs to be seen as a positive, and defined in more detail, to get the maximum benefit for school, child and parent. Currently we have an education system based on a tripod with a wonky leg.
Another flaw is that if I were to investigate the educational background of the politicians and policy makers I suspect I would find education being defined as being restricted to the first parts of life. I suspect few, if any, would regard lifelong learning as anything other than being experience based after the first couple of decades. Their own University learning would be likely to date back to when they were in their early twenties, often many decades ago. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that this may be somewhat out of date! In other words they are no longer really well-educated themselves.
The other aspect of this debate centres around whether the current biannual testing in schools is worth the huge amount of money it must cost. I am always concerned that a short test may measure little other than how much time the teacher has spent practising it with them. You can’t really measure real learning on relatively short little tests. Just because that is the best we can do in the circumstances doesn’t mean it is worth doing. It could in fact be doing more harm than good, as some people are starting to acknowledge.
This brings me back to the quality of the advisors, political and professional, in terms of their own up to date learning, and the amount of time they themselves actually spend in schools. The fact that we identify some schools as disadvantaged suggests that the policy makers themselves are out of date. This label in itself will be enough to lower the children’s aspirations and standards.
We need to bring our concept of education into the 21st century instead of just re-iterating what we did last century, and making the same mistakes. Is education itself falling behind?