“Time goes quickly” according to septuagenarian John Wilsher who failed his 11-plus, but now at 74 has graduated from university with merit, and is encouraging others to seize the chance to follow their passions.

His return to higher education however was not without its setbacks. It wasn’t easy, Wilsher told PA news, concerned about taking exams for the first time in 35 years and aware his memory was not as sharp as it once was.

“Life is not a rehearsal; positive opportunities should be grasped when available,” Wilsher said.

“Time goes so quickly, especially for the over 60s, so if you are interested in something, focus on the end goal, not your past hardships. Go for it now.”

While working as a primary school teacher, Wilsher studied for an Open University bachelor’s degree, a postgraduate diploma in education and two other diplomas in a balancing act he described as “part of my DNA”.

Later he enrolled in an MSc course in environmental dynamics and climate change at Swansea University, a decision stirred by his training as a geography teacher, interests in science and “topical” climate change concerns.

“The course was all I wanted it to be, very challenging but absorbing. I learned so much about a subject which, to some, is still controversial, and I’m grateful I had the chance to do it,” he said.

“Mind you, my last science lesson was in 1964, my last geography lecture in 1969 and my last exam in 1987 – surprisingly, some things have changed since then,” said Wilsher, who began his studies in the autumn of 2021, with help from a bursary from the Welsh government.

Without the £4,000 non-repayable grant, the course would have been unaffordable on his pension alone, he said. The grant helps cover study and living costs for individuals over 60 unable to access other financial aid.

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“I’ve had my share of hurdles to overcome, such as opportunities lost because of my 11-plus failure, or most recently Covid, but they need not be life-determining,” said Wilsher, who hopes his stories will inspire others.


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