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Intergenerational Learning in Ghent

Intergenerational Learning in Ghent


Published on 19 December 2023

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Senior citizens and students as co-learners – a pilot within the community-campus project.

Community what? 

Community Campus (‘neighbourhood in the campus, campus in the neighbourhood’) is a strategic project of Artevelde University of Applied Sciences (AUAS). The goal of the project is to embed the college campuses in their local neighbourhood(s). In this process, campuses are no longer considered ‘ivory towers’ from which local residents feel estranged. Campuses become open hubs for formal and informal learning. On the other hand, student learning is no longer confined to lectures and seminars on campus but extends into the local community. In this way, the neighbourhood, and by extension the city, becomes the learning environment in which students and residents go through a learning process together. This presupposes that expertise and experience in the local community are seen as strengths and assets for educating students, and that co-creation processes between students and residents stimulate local development and student learning (EUniverCities, 2022).  


Pilot project: inviting senior citizens into the campus 

This community-campus project and vision has been developed and implemented at Artevelde University of Applied Sciences in recent years. The project was first presented in the EUniverCities Handbook. The idea of the community-campus is contextualized within the wider framework of ‘cities of and for learning,’ in which the city offers both the challenges and the context for learning. In this article we are highlighting just one initiative within this project: senior citizens on the campus. A pilot project was launched in which senior citizens in Ghent were welcomed onto campus to take classes with students. Besides attending classes, they were introduced to the campus, its library facilities and its different simulation and high-tech labs.  

The idea came from Maria, an active senior who lives in a residential care centre and who sometimes participates as a volunteer/guest speaker in the occupational therapy program. Maria indicated that she would like to be able to take classes in an auditorium with the students, because she herself had never had the opportunity to study and had to start working at the age of 14. The teacher took this question seriously and started looking for support to organize this for a wider group of senior citizens. The idea was then transversally linked to different actors and stakeholders on campus: the community-campus ‘neighbourhood anchor’ who connects different stakeholders; students of the bachelor program of oral care and the bachelor program of occupational therapy; a researcher working on Active and Healthy Aging; and personnel of the (media) library and the audiology, podiatry lab and makers space (FabLab).   

The pilot project was planned in the same week as the Flemish seniors’ week. Flyers were distributed in the local service centres for seniors, emails were sent to other residential living and care centres, and students were asked to invite their grandparents. Furthermore, invitations were sent out via local Facebook Groups. 35 seniors registered, 25 students were directly involved: either by introducing dental care themselves or as a ‘buddy’ of a senior. 

Over a whole week, senior citizens were introduced into the campus, its library facilities and its different (living and makers) labs. In addition to attending classes, they could have their hearing tested in the audio lab or get to know the latest VR technology in the makers lab. Students of the oral care program accompanied the elderly throughout the day, gave introductions … and fulfilled their community service learning course in this way. At the end of each day, students interviewed the ‘visitors’ to gather feedback on the event.  

Evaluation and lessons learned 

Everyone involved experienced a clear ‘win’: the senior citizens were eager for more; students were positive about the experience and reported learning on a personal and civic level. Both local service centers and private residential care centers reported positive and enthusiastic feedback and are willing to cooperate on a more permanent basis in the future. The students of the oral care program reported a more positive attitude towards elderly people after their experience. They also learned that it is important not to view senior citizens as ‘patients,’ but as persons in their own right. They also reflected on their (civic) engagement and how they learned from the senior citizens they met during the experience. Areas of improvement are communication, timing, and accessible and low-threshold registration options. Many more residents could have been reached by using various communication channels. More personal communication with residential and care centres is necessary. Furthermore, the importance of working closely with city partners and the role of local city officials such as the ‘neighbourhood coordinators’ are essential in forging a sustainable connection with the local community. The city of Ghent is aware of the role of these local anchor figures, as they strive to develop a liveable city and 25 neighbourhoods with highly involved citizens.  


As the pilot project was successfully evaluated, plans for future events are being made. A more permanent cooperation with local residential care centres is now being discussed. Senior citizens can make use of the audio and podiatry labs and even the makers space (FabLab). In the next years, we want to expand the scope of the project to different campuses, involving different local communities and community residents, and more (community service learning) students. This also involves getting the students out of the campus to learn in, for and with the community through community service learning. This will be further explored in the network meeting of April 2024 in Ghent. We are looking forward to exploring the possibilities and challenges of cities of and for learning, through the lens of community- and challenge-based learning.  


This item was reported on by the Flemish news agency (VRT):