Mirabella building in Tempe

ASU to lead Age-Friendly University Global Network


Amanda Goodman

Arizona State University, one of the founding members of the Age-Friendly University Global Network, has taken over the role of host institution of the network, following Dublin City University’s 10-year stint as the network’s lead.

“We felt that ASU was well positioned to take this on with things such as the Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging, Mirabella and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Arizona State University, all making up part of this ecosystem that we already have here,” said Assistant Professor Aaron Guest, who is leading the Age-Friendly Global Network Secretariat at ASU.

Dublin City University, Arizona State University and the University of Strathclyde founded the initiative in 2012, which highlights the unique role higher education can play in responding to the opportunities associated with an aging demographic across societies around the world. 

David Coon, Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation associate dean and Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging director, said this is an exciting opportunity for not only the center but also the university as a whole.

“Taking on this leadership role and expanding our involvement with Age-Friendly University (Global Network) is in line with our commitment to advancing education, research and service opportunities for learners of all ages,” he said.

All three founding members are working together in order to ensure a smooth transition and plan for the future of the network.

Guest believes this is the start of an exciting time for age-inclusivity in higher education, and provides an opportunity for new partnerships to develop.

“We're overjoyed that the University of Strathclyde has remained involved as vice chair and that we're working in conjunction with them as well as DCU to develop a new global governance structure and to really grow the network in new ways,” Guest said.

The new governance structure will engage members more locally and regionally to support the global network. An expected outcome of this change includes additional research opportunities as the member institutions identify the educational services and needs of older adults and students, and how universities engage with lifelong learners. 

ASU News spoke with Guest about what this designation means and some of the resources available to internal and external partners.

Question: What does it mean to be an Age-Friendly University?

Answer: Adopting the Age-Friendly University Principles, which are part of the broader age-friendly ecosystem, really indicates an institution's commitment to serving learners across all ages, with some specific focuses on identifying new ways to engage lifelong learners, which others may think of as "non-traditional" students. It focuses on ensuring that institutions of higher education know about, recognize and are preparing for our globally aging world.

Q: Why should people inside ASU take an interest in this designation?

A: One of the reasons this matters, particularly at ASU, is that in Arizona we have a rapidly aging population. We also know that lifelong learning and engagement in university settings have a host of health benefits for older adults. So those two things coupled with the fact that learners are returning to education and university later in life create an opportunity for internal partners to build new collaborations and identify new partnerships at ASU while also learning about the broader age-friendly ecosystem and identifying partners globally who are working in this area.

Q: Why should people outside of the university take an interest?

A: One of the things an Age-Friendly University designation really indicates is that the institution has taken the time to think about its programming, to identify what it’s offering, and to begin to coalesce its offerings around individuals in midlife and beyond into an organized program that individuals can access.

It indicates that universities are actually thinking and wanting to engage with more than what people view as the traditional student population. The view of universities as only being the bastions of places that only people 18 to 22 are at is really kind of an antiquated idea.

Q: How does this set ASU apart from other higher education institutions?

A: By adopting and endorsing the principles, ASU has indicated to the broader community that it has offerings for you and there are things that you can become engaged and involved in within the university that aren't just happenstance. They're planned, they're organized, and there is a rhyme and reason for everything that we're doing to engage these older learners. 

An example of this at ASU is how we engage older adults, such as Osher Lifelong Learning Institute participants or Mirabella residents as members of dissertation and research committees, as advisors in our centers, as speakers and participants in our classes, and a host of other opportunities. It really drives home the point that ASU is a university for everyone — regardless of age.

Q: What are some of the resources associated with being an Age-Friendly University that people should be aware of?

A: One of the benefits of being a member is collegial collaboration. The opportunity to promote your work and the ability to access ongoing research collaborations. It also provides universities access to collected information regarding teaching, research and service related to age-friendly principles and programs. Network members participate in the conversations shaping the future of age-friendly universities, and really, universities overall, due to our global aging population.

And we have a new initiative to take this even further. For the first time ever, we're going to bring universities that are in the same region together to have discussions around the principles and to develop new programming. We aim to expand the existing international gatherings and conferences and encourage greater communication between network members globally.

If someone in the community sees this designation, they will know the university has offerings available that are accessible to them. For example, many universities offer lifelong learning opportunities, including ASU, or specific trips or even free classes for older adults.

Importantly, I would just add that when people hear "age-friendly," they may think we are only interested in the older end of the lifespan, but, really, age-friendly is based on the universal design — and our ultimate aim is to hopefully make higher education better for all.