Owing to the advancement of medical technology, food availability, improved environment and health conditions, population ageing is a phenomenon that is occurring both globally and locally. In Hong Kong, the elderly population defined as comprising people aged 65 and over, was 653,700 in 1996 (Census & Statistics Department 2005a). By 2006, it will be 839,600 (Census & Statistics Department 2004), representing a net increase of 33%. During the same period (1996—2006), the increase in the old-old group (aged 75 and over) is 59%. In Hong Kong, the decrease in birth rate coupled with an increase in average life expectancy, and availability of nutritional food in tandem with economic growth, are the main reasons behind this demographic change. In 2001, the average life expectancy is 78 years for men and 84 years for women (Census & Statistics Department 2005b). According to past research, ageing in Hong Kong will be a serious challenge as 26% of its population will be elderly by 2031 (Census & Statistics Department 2004).
Among the many challenges of ageing, the concepts of active and productive ageing have been widely accepted and adopted as the way forward to manage issues of population ageing. Based on the resourcebased theory, the elderly need resources to continue to participate in society. The resources that are critical for the elderly to engage in active ageing are first, health and secondly, skills and capability which could be enhanced through education.
As far as health in concerned, most of the elderly in Hong Kong have chronic illnesses affecting their health. The five common ones are rheumatism (34.2%), hypertension (32.2%), fracture (17.1%), peptic ulcer (13.5%), and diabetes mellitus (10.7%) (Leung & Lo 1997 cited in Phillips & Yeh 1999). Only 31.8 % elderly consider themselves to be in good physical health while the remaining 68% consider their health to be deteriorating when compared with the past year.
In 1995, of the 601,800 elderly aged 65 years or older (Census & Statistics Department 2005a), 67,000 lived in elderly homes (including care and nursing homes), and 87,000 lived in public housing independently. This number is considered large. This group of elderly generally lacks care and support. After the handover of Hong Kong in 1997, SAR Government formed the Elderly Committee that looks after the welfare of elderly with its emphasis on the role of family and the community. The main argument is that old people should grow old in the community for as long as possible and family should be the main pillar that provides primary support and care to the elderly.
Recent development saw a comprehensive set of services that caters to the needs of old persons such as providing home assistance to help those frail and disable elderly who are willing to grow old in their community. Out reach teams can provide psychogeriatric counseling, physiotherapy services such as regular visits to those living alone and who are in need of such services.
The second important aspect relates to the social well-being of the elderly. Very often, the elderly feel lonely when their children are grown up, married, and very likely live separately. This transition in life resulting in empty nest often accompanied by sense of loss, loneliness and low selfesteem, can erode the social well-being of the elderly. Social interactions are usually very crucial to overcome such loneliness. In order to facilitate social interaction, active participation in social activities can help to reduce stress and improve self-esteem. One of the avenues to increase participation is through education which in turn could improve the skills and capabilities among older people gearing them towards active ageing and quality of life.
Although the issues of ageing are many, the focus of this paper is to share the experiences of mature students pursuing higher education at Lingnan University. It is hoped that by sharing our experiences at Lingnan, public policy decision-makers could provide the necessary institutional support, in particular the funding aspect since tuition fees are potentially an obstacle to many who are interested.
Cheung, Y. P., Kwan, C. P., Li, C. K., Tong, K. H., & Yip, F. H. (2009). Life long education experience at Lingnan University (APIAS Monograph Paper Series No.17). Retrieved from Lingnan University website: http://commons.ln.edu.hk/apiasmp/17