Benalmádena resident submits PhD thesis at 94

Charles Betty is going to the UK in February for his viva.
Charles Betty is going to the UK in February for his viva. / TONYBRYANT
  • Charles Betty, who has researched the trend of older British migrants to return the UK, is set to become the oldest student to receive a PhD from a British university

Long-time Costa del Sol resident, 94-year-old Charles Betty, has not wasted his retirement years.

Since the eighties he has been helping to improve the lives of fellow foreign residents and now his concerns will be recorded in academic journals.

For the last five years he has been studying and researching under the auspices of the University of Northampton in order to attain a PhD.

Resident in Benalmádena Costa, Charles undertook his studies via the internet, but he is now preparing to travel to the UK in February for his final viva.

If successful, the pensioner will become the oldest person in the UK to receive a PhD.

His 80,000-word thesis focuses on the experiences of older British migrants who moved to Spain, but later decided to return to the UK.

The study examines the reasons, issues and problems of these pensioners, including the challenges of living in Spain, what prompted them to return to the UK and the possibilities of becoming reintegrated into the British community.

To accomplish this, Charles conducted a series of narrative interviews with expat residents over the age of 55.

He also gathered and analysed blog posts from community websites in Spain. His findings reveal that there are two key reasons for people returning to the UK: the need for health and social care and insufficient financial assets.

His study makes several recommendations for improving the availability of social care in Spain, and suggestions for how older British migrants could become more fluent in the use of the Spanish language.

Charles came to live in Spain in 1985, after his ailing wife was told that her life expectancy would significantly increase if she moved to a warmer and drier climate.

Charles was working as a senior education inspector, but he took early retirement in order to move to Spain to benefit his wife's health.

It was a routine visit to the health centre in Arroyo de la Miel that would instigate his 30-year concern for the needs of the expat community on the Costa del Sol.

After studying the results of a satisfaction survey conducted by the University of Malaga, Charles helped set up the first interpreter service in a health clinic on the coast, and it wasn't long before his skills were requested from other towns with large expat communities.

“The survey asked if expats were satisfied with the services offered at the clinic. Most were quite happy, with the exception that they were unable to communicate with the medical staff,” the pensioner tells SUR in English.

Charles spoke a little Spanish at the time, but needed help in the organisation of the interpreter service.

“I contacted Liz Parry, the former editor of SUR in English, who offered assistance, and this enabled me to get the project off the ground,” the sprightly senior citizen explains.

Charles soon made many contacts in Benalmádena town hall and he next decided set up a new integration service.

The focus was to integrate foreigners into the Spanish way of life and to give them some understanding of the language. This service is still operational today.

His next project was the founding of the Age Care Association, an organisation that helps and supports the older English-speaking community on the Cost del Sol.

“At the time there were not many organisations aimed the expat senior citizens, and so I arranged a meeting with the British consulate and they suggested it would be a good idea to set up a service like this,” Charles says.

Some time later, Charles contacted Dr Kelly Hall, a lecturer in social policy who did her on thesis on retirement migration and has since helped set up the 'Support in Spain' website.

He told her that he wanted to write a thesis about why British expats return to the UK, and she offered to be his supervisor. After five years of research, Charles has finally finished his thesis, and he claims that this will be his last project, as he is finally ready to retire and enjoy life with his wife.

“My wife is the most important thing to me and her wellbeing is priority. She was told she had just a few years to live in 1985, but Spain has made such an improvement to her health and her life: it has also had a considerable impact on my life,” Charles says with conviction.