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Arthur’s lifelong love of learning

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  • Arthur Cowley is the oldest student to begin a degree at UOW
  • He’s keen to keep his mind active
  • He started his working life as a tradesman
  • Arthur already has a degree, a Masters and a PhD
02 August 2019
IRT resident Arthur Cowley is the oldest person to begin a degree at the University of Wollongong.
IRT resident Arthur Cowley is the oldest person to begin a degree at the University of Wollongong. Photo by Paul Jones.
“I have an innate curiosity. It’s a fault. I am passionate about education and I love school. Why should you stop learning just because you reach a certain age?"
Arthur Cowley
IRT Seaview resident

Arthur Cowley believes you’re never too old to learn new things. He should know. At the age of 87 Arthur is studying a Bachelor of Creative Arts, the oldest student to ever begin a degree at the University of Wollongong (UOW).

Now in his third year, Arthur, a resident at IRT Seaview, Woonona, was asked whether he would like to study part-time or full-time.

“I said I wanted to study full-time because who knows where I’ll be in six years. I don’t have that much time to waste!” he says with a laugh.

Arthur is a familiar figure around the creative arts building. He is active in class and in the studio, relishing the opportunity to study for pleasure rather than for career ambitions.

He stands out among his peers – a 60-odd year age difference helps – but he loves being surrounded by young, enthusiastic students who share his passion.

He admits, with a laugh, to using his age to his advantage.

“I sometimes pretend I’m a doddering old man who doesn’t know what’s happening,” he says, with a grin.

Arthur’s career began in a very different field and in a very different era.

Born in 1931, he lost his father, who was in the navy, during World War II. Arthur’s mother went to work to support the family, followed shortly by Arthur, who left school at the age of 13.

Arthur found work as a tradesman and spent his days at Cockatoo Island, in Sydney’s Harbour.

“I was working 12 hours a day, six days a week, and I thought there must be easier ways of making a quid.”

Arthur Cowley is studying a Bachelor of Creative Arts.
Arthur Cowley is studying a Bachelor of Creative Arts.

The opportunity for a career change arose after Arthur received a teachers’ college scholarship to become a manual arts teacher. He went to Bathurst Teachers College and was meant to transfer to Newcastle after the first month.

“But in the first fortnight I met my wife, and everything changed. I became a small schools teacher, rather than a manual arts teacher.”

He was a teacher for close to 30 years, moving from primary schools to later become the manual arts teacher he always wanted to be.

Arthur was in his 50s when a school inspector suggested he gain a university degree.

“I had a job I loved, but I was told it might help me get more money if I passed the first year, so I gave it a go. It was a bit of a doddle, to be honest.”

Before his current degree, all his study was done part-time, while juggling the complexities of work and family life with his three children.

His first degree – a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Education and Psychology at Macquarie University – was followed by a Masters and a PhD, and a career change into psychology.

He spent 16 years as a psychologist, largely working with children.

“I loved working with the young whippersnappers,” says Arthur, who has 16 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren of his own.

“They were so much fun. I loved hearing their stories and spending my days working with them.”

The latest chapter in Arthur’s life was sparked by his innate curiosity and desire to keep his mind active.

He was one of two recipients of IRT’s 2017 Community Scholarships, which provided financial assistance to an immediate family member of an IRT Group employee or customer.

“I’d never studied art so I wanted to do something different,” he explains. “I have an innate curiosity. It’s a fault. I am passionate about education and I love school. Why should you stop learning just because you reach a certain age?

“It’s been so much fun.”

Edited version of article by India Glyde, UOW.

Main photo by Paul Jones.

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