British expat in Spain – oldest graduate in history – gets PhD from university

University of Northampton

OLDEST STUDENT IN HISTORY: Charles Betty graduated from the UK university

A BRITISH expatriate living on the Costa del Sol has become the oldest person in history to be awarded a PhD by a British university.

Charles Betty, 95, from Benalmadena left school at 14 and fought in France during the Second World War. He has graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy after completing a 48,000 word thesis through a long distance programme which took five years from his home in.

During his years in Spain he has worked to help integrate fellow British migrants and co-founded Age Care Association, an organisation which helps and supports the older British community on the Costa del Sol.

Charles told the University of Northampton: “I came to live in Spain in 1985 after my wife had serious health problems and was told that her life expectancy would increase if she moved to a warmer climate.”

Mr Betty, who has been living on the Costa del Sol since 1986 flew to attend his graduation ceremony at the University of Northampton on Thursday.

Mr Betty, who is originally from Farnsfield, north of Nottingham, said: “When I first moved to Spain I was told that you live longer if you do two things: laugh a lot and keep your mind occupied.”

The 95-year-old said after they made the move he paid a routine visit to a local health centre near to where they live in Spain.

They found out that many older British retirees were having problems communicating with the medical staff, he added.

He then set up an interpreter service which proved very successful. In 1995, he founded Age Care Association, which now has six meeting points for members to exchange thoughts, experiences and problems about living in Spain.

“It was this involvement that prompted me to consider writing a PhD – and as they say, the rest is history,” said Mr Betty.

“I come from an ordinary working-class background Born in Fleetwood, Lancashire, in 1923, where we had no history of degrees or going to university.”

Charles left school at the age of 14 without any qualifications and joined the Royal Welch Fusiliers at the age of 18. He served five years before being wounded in France in 1944 and sent back to the UK. Two years ago, Charles was awarded the French medal Legion D’Houneur for his services in World War Two.

“I had four brothers, my mother was a housewife and my father was a deep-sea fisherman, a trawler chief engineer and he was away for weeks at once.

“I never really thought about studying but when I came home from France after the war,

“I was demobbed from the Army and I saw a notice which said that after the war the country will need lots of teachers and anyone interested should apply, said Charles.

“I had no qualifications but I was able to train in Liverpool to get my teaching certificate and I went on from there,” he said

The war veteran now has two PhDs having only started his academic career after retiring as a school inspector aged 70. He completed his first PhD education when he was 75 and five years ago started studying for his second.

Mr Betty said: “The thesis is all about the reasons why people return to Britain, we’ve got 300,000 Brits in Spain and most living in the Costa del Sol according to the census.

“But as they get older quite a number of those become more vulnerable when they believe they are not being able to access.

“My thesis is called Return Migration of Older British Residents in Spain which looks at the reasons why older people return to the UK.

“Obviously I collected the data and information well before Brexit and I think now the situation is one of uncertainty.

“It would be interesting to see the effect Brexit has on return migration but that will take years to understand.”

Mr Betty´s first PhD was for a long-distance learning degree at the Californian Coast University, after he completed masters´ degrees from Universities of Brighton and Nottingham.

He was a primary school teacher, then became a headmaster and in the 1970´s, became a local authority school inspector in Nottinghamshire.

His wife Eileen travelled with him to the UK for the graduation and said: “I think it’s wonderful and I’m particularly proud of him.

“Charles loves learning and researching. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he continues his studies.”

Daughter Jillian Oakham, 68, from Claypole in Nottinghamshire said: “I think it’s a spectacular achievement.”

“He was brought up in hard times, you have to have a special drive to work your way out of those kinds of situations.”

oldest student photo 2

SURROUNDED BY FAMILY: Mr Betty receives his second PhD. Photo Credit: University of Northampton

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