British expat pensioner is oldest PhD graduate ever

Published:  18 Sep at 6 PM
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A retired, 95-yearold British expat living in Benalmadena on Spain’s Costa del Sol has just been awarded a PhD from Northampton University.

His achievement makes Charles Betty the oldest PhD graduate ever from a British university, and his Doctorate of Philosophy was gained by a 48,000 word thesis taking five years to complete via a long-distance learning programme. Charles’s history is as unique as his achievement, as he left school at the age of 14, fought in France during WWII and, since his move to Spain in 1985, he’s spent time helping to integrate new expat arrivals. In addition, he co-founded and runs the Age Care Association supporting the Costa del Sol’s older British community.

The move to Spain was made after doctors told his wife Eileen she had serious health problems which would improve in a warmer climate. Once they’d arrived and settled in, they visited a local health centre and met up with several older British retirees having problems communicating with medical staff. Without hesitation, Charles set up a translation and interpreter service which proved successful, and he went on to found his Age Care Association in 1995. The group now offers six meeting points for expat members having problems with life in Spain, and is a hub for sharing experiences and thoughts about various issues affecting the region’s large UK expat community.

Charles flew to the UK to accept his PhD, telling the media his involvement with the association had encouraged him to consider writing the PhD thesis, adding 'the rest is history'. None of his family, he said, had even thought of going to university and getting a degree, and he’d never considered studying until he returned from Europe at the end of WWII. Although he had no qualifications he was able to study for his teaching certificate and taught primary before becoming a headmaster and then a school inspector, a job he kept until he retired at age 70 to start his academic career.

This amazing man already had one PhD in education as well as two masters’ degrees from Brighton and Nottingham Universities by the time he was 75, and began working on his second thesis entitled ‘Return Migration of Older British Residents in Spain’ just five years ago. He’s now very interested in the possible effects of the UK’s EU divorce on the numbers and motivations of British returnees, but suspects it will take some years to unravel.
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