A growing number of people aged 50 or over are taking out student loans to pay for university degrees, according to the Student Loans Company.

This is despite a relatively low average retirement income, meaning careful financial management is required by those choosing to add to their education.

Even people in their 70s and 80s are turning to the education system in retirement to further their learning.

The number of over-50s taking out loans has increased by 11.5% in the last year as people look to build on existing qualifications or brush up on their favourite topics.

Some 5,030 people aged over 50 claimed a tuition fee loan in 2013/14, compared to 4,550 a year earlier – 540 of these people were aged over 60.

Working for longer

Last year, Universities Minister David Willetts said returning to university would help the older generations remain in work – a necessity for some who lack large enough retirement funds.

“There is certainly a pressure for continuing to get retrained and up-skilled,” he explained, suggesting that the older generation could struggle to compete with the younger one.

An upper age limit on people eligible for student loans was scrapped last year, opening up hundreds of opportunities for older people to enter education.

Previously, anyone aged 54 or over was not able to take a loan out to pay for their education, meaning it had to be financed personally.

According to the Student Loans Company, there are “students in receipt of student finance from both the 70s and 80s age groups”.

Boosting skills across the UK

Furthermore, student loans are generally not available for those who already have higher education qualifications, suggesting the vast majority of those claiming are first-time students.

St Patrick’s International College in London was the most popular institution for the older generation, taking 310 people in the current academic year.

Vocational courses including, design, law, business management and hospitality are especially popular, while several other locations in London also attracted more than 100 older students.

Westminster, East Anglia, Liverpool and the University of Wales all have large populations of mature students looking to further their skills.

Managing finances with or without a loan

There are also others in higher education that are choosing not to fund their additional education via loans, but this requires careful financial management.

A prepaid card is a great way of ensuring you don’t spend more than you would like, as spending is limited to the amount on the card at any given moment.

The cards can easily be topped up or replaced if required, while accounts can be checked regularly online if needed.

For anyone with concerns over fraudulent activity, the cards are also not linked directly to bank accounts so funds can be considered more secure.