Thursday, March 12, 2015

Students get free accommodation, seniors get company

Earlier this year I took an Oculus Rift into care home. The residents loved it. “It will scare the pants off you” I said, and 85 year old volleyed back “No chance - I’m not wearing any!” My mate Stuart McKenzie has been going in and giving residents computer lessons for years – originator of the ‘Moose in the Hoose’ project (it’s in Scotland). It was obvious that human contact and a bit of humour and chat, was the commodity they craved the most.
Ghettoes of young & old
The whole issue of social isolation is an acute problem. So take two groups; old people isolated in homes cut off from the community and students in blocked accommodation. The Dutch have come up with a novel solution – allow students free accommodation in exchange for 30 hours a month of contact. This is all about moving away from ghettoisation of the old and young. In a healthy society both have a lot to gain from each other.
The feedback from both students and the elderly is positive. They chat, go shopping together, play games, even teach internet access. This is win-win – the young learn valuable skills, the very skills that Universities and schools don’t teach, and the old feel happier and less isolated. What’s not to like about this idea?
Return on investment
I know this sounds a little woolly but this is an idea that requires relatively low investment but has a huge return in terms of mutual learning and social capital. In some countries, care homes are being specially built to cater for both students and residents. This could be a great way for a local authority to work with their University to solve an endemic problem.
By the way…
As a bit of an adjunct, my son attends the University of Maastricht, in Holland. He wanted to study abroad, worked and saved to get there, has very low fees and almost full day contact, five days a week. I get the sense that there’s a lot to learn from the continent – maybe our version of academe, in the UK is itself a little too socially isolated to learn from others? Or does this happen in the UK?

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