Anonymous University Faculty of Theology
Interviewee: Administrative Staff
The combination of a declining and ageing population, along with an educational deficit, poses a significant demographic problem for our country. To overcome this, educational reform must prioritise the interests of students, benefiting both individuals and the broader society. However, in recent years, the teaching career, even in universities, has become less attractive to young and talented individuals.
While traditionalist approaches and age-related difficulties persist in university teaching, it is crucial to recognize variations among professors. Some faculty members, despite their age, actively strive to keep up with the times and engage with students. To address the challenges, universities should prioritise digital skills training, promote language proficiency, and foster a culture of continuous learning and adaptability among the teaching staff. By embracing change and enhancing student engagement, we can create a more dynamic and inclusive educational environment that prepares students for the future.
- The University of Iași, like many other faculties, faces challenges related to age and insufficient preparation for using information technology and communication (ITC) tools.
- The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the urgent need for teachers, particularly older ones, to improve their digital skills. Initial resistance to digitalization and the slow process of adaptation have been observed.
- Professors, especially senior ones, have limited proficiency in foreign languages, such as English, which hinders their access to international academic life, literature, and collaborations.
- With the average retirement age being the highest in university teaching, a significant age difference exists between professors and students
- Stereotypes can exist on both sides, with younger students stereotyping older professors and vice versa.
- However, age should not prevent professors from adapting to changing cultural trends and effectively connecting with students.
- This limitation affects interactions with both European teachers and students, including those participating in exchange programs like Erasmus.
I think that the managers of educational institutions could deepen the subject of ageing and offer ways of professionalisation in this subject through various information campaigns, scientific events and courses. Interprofessional collaboration, exchanges of experiences, ideas and good practices could encourage the development of those policies that include the theme of age management in the public sector of activity.
The university can be the initiator of a professional network in the field - even at the European level - and can support lobbying and partnership actions with organisations, institutions, associations from the country and abroad, in order to collaborate and work on common projects.
Theology Faculty and Age: Challenges and Solutions
Ageism was present long before the devastating impacts of the pandemic and the latest European level trends of the last decade. However, it is very obvious that people may be more willing to speak out against the stigma of ageing, and to work towards doing something about it.
In my opinion, a shift in the general attitude is happening and for this issue, universities can play a leading role in developing age-consciousness at all levels.
On the other hand, the theology faculty where I work probably has the most holistic approach to the age factor, because if we think about it better, the future priests trained at our faculty will primarily have elderly people as their majority beneficiaries. It is known that, at least in Romania, but I think this is true in the entire European space, people of the third age have a higher level of religiosity and a more active, richer spiritual life.
Any approach to ageing addresses a holistic perspective that combines social and humanistic fields such as sociology, psychology, theology. At the theology faculty, our students are trained to provide spiritual counselling to beneficiaries. My view is that the role of spiritual counselling in enhancing the quality of life of the elderly is paramount. The role of spiritual counselling is threefold: to prevent the negative consequences of ageing, to maintain the sphere of the individual's relationships at an optimal level and to intervene when the individual is in difficulty. I’m no specialist in spiritual counselling but I think that might be the best approach for the Romanian population, because the overall religiosity level is high.
How can universities respond to these challenges?
Concerning the changes and different perspectives that come with age, I guess that any form of prevention program/awareness program can achieve some sorts of effects. Such preventions could be done by informational campaigns among the population on the specific aspects of the third age, through physical methods of combating the negative effects associated with regression, through the mental preparation of the transition to another stage of life. Unfortunately, I do not know of existing initiatives in the field, not even in the educational field, where we could test and pilot such a prevention/awareness program.
But probably we would first need to have specialists for this topic and it’s not hard to anticipate that educational staff could be the best match. Therefore, the most effective measure could be to train educational staff in this topic and then design and develop general population campaigns. Our students have Applied Social Work and Specialty Practice courses in various partner institutions, but they mainly work with physical and mental health problems, children with problems and disabilities and the poor population. At our faculty there are two disciplines dedicated to the subject of elderly: Social assistance for elderly people, in the third year of the Orthodox Theology - Social Work programme of study – bachelor level, and Specific Problems of Various Age Stages and Methods of intervention in the first year of study of The Contemporary Christian Family programme of study – master level. But other centres in Romania have more, there is a Master in Social Gerontology, for example, (at the Faculty of Sociology and Social Work of the University "Babes Bolyai'' Cluj-Napoca) that develops significant theoretical and practical skills in the field of social work dedicated to the elderly.
I think that the managers of educational institutions - especially academic ones - could deepen the subject of ageing (in the educational sector in particular but also from a general national social point of view) and offer ways of professionalisation in this subject through various information campaigns, scientific events, courses, etc.
On the other hand, interprofessional collaboration, exchanges of experiences, ideas and good practices could encourage the development of those policies that include the theme of age management in the public sector of activity, the educational sector in particular.
Universities could be the initiator of a professional network in the field - even at the European level - and could support lobbying and partnership actions with organisations, institutions, associations from the country and abroad, in order to collaborate and work on common projects.
Working effectively at any age - is this truly valid for university teachers?
Despite negative stereotypes, there are some serious studies that show the same conclusion: one can work effectively at any age, the necessary condition being for organisations to undertake strategies in order to prevent and manage the ageing of the employees and to maintain a good quality of life in the workplace, adapting the ergonomic organisation of work so as to allow aged employees to be competitive and healthy.
I’m sorry I cannot quote a European study but I know a very well-known article published in "American Psychologist" - the "flagship magazine" of international psychology - an article that analyses the scientific performances of "seniors" in the university environment. The article analyses, based on the data, the issue of the retirement age of those in the academic environment. As you know, in the USA and Canada, as well as in some European countries, there is no limit on the retirement age. In other European countries, the age is set at 65 or 67 years.
In short, the article shows that:
- Despite what was previously believed, advanced age does not affect intellectual and academic performance. This fact is the result of: (a) the abolition of forced retirement (in the USA and Canada), which motivates academic performance; (b) the change in the status of scientific publication (publications matter not only for promotion, but also for prestige); (3) increasing life expectancy and health in old age;
- The best predictor of performance at older ages is previous performance; those who were efficient when they were young are also efficient as "seniors", and those who were not efficient when they were young are not efficient even as "seniors";
- Indiscriminate retirement at a certain age (e.g. 65) means, in fact, waste and wastage of resources.
I think that this information shows clearly that we still haven't solved the age problem in the academic field because – probably - we need to change our general attitude towards work in general. I speak about Europe generally and Romania especially.
Concerning the basic things I can observe every day - on one hand, older staff can draw on their life experience and offer students careers and pastoral advice that younger staff might not be able to. On other hand, the most serious issues within the administration and the management come – surprise! – not from the old guys but from the younger ones.