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Study is “life sustaining” for 82-year-old graduate

27 March 2023

Getting older is no reason to stop challenging your brain, says 82-year-old Christchurch student Robert Walker.


Walker will add a Master of Policy and Governance degree to his list of qualifications at a Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) graduation celebration on Thursday 6 April  at Christchurch Arena.

He says studying keeps him motivated in his senior years. “It’s very life sustaining as it forces you to get out of bed in the morning, go and attend lectures, and keep up some life interests rather than sitting in a chair watching tv. It’s about having goals, and hopefully something good might come out of it.”

Walker, whose master’s dissertation explores elder abuse and how older citizens can become victims of criminal and fraudulent behaviour, already has four tertiary qualifications but this will be the first time he has attended a graduation celebration in person.

“A master’s is a big step and it might be as far as I’m able to go. The others just arrived in the mail but this one is a big deal for me.”

He graduated with a social work degree from the University of Sydney in 1982 and also has a Graduate Diploma in Science (in Philosophy) and a Postgraduate Certificate in Arts (in Philosophy) from the University of Canterbury.

After a career running a publishing and advertising company in Australia and New Zealand, Walker moved back to New Zealand in 2003 and has spent his retirement studying part-time.

He enjoys meeting other students, even though most of them are six decades younger than him, and says he is keen to encourage other older people to consider tertiary study. “It makes sure that you keep going and keep thinking. If you keep your brain active, you can offset dementia. I would most definitely encourage others to get into it.”

In his master’s research, titled “Elderly Financial Abuse in New Zealand: Is the Law Sufficient?” he found that elder abuse can be carried out by relatives, friends, professionals, and even corporate bodies. In some cases, the victims’ estates and life savings could be lost.

“Often very well hidden, because of perceived shame for family and necessary secrecy by the very perpetrators, Elder Abuse is difficult to trace and police. It affects not only the victims but their families and broader society.”

Walker argues that a robust overhaul in New Zealand law and administration is overdue and necessary, and he hopes his research will lead to changes being made. “I believe that every transaction carried out by an elderly person’s enduring power of attorney should be approved of or checked regularly by the Public Trust or another authorised authority to make sure it’s legitimate.”

Walker has had health problems, including a heart and lung condition and arthritis, but he’s keen to keep studying, even after achieving his master’s, and plans to begin an Honours in Philosophy.

“I’m not planning to die just yet, I’m too busy,” he says.

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