Leader: Those who pay the bill want to see the product

March 23, 2001

Frank Furedi's surprise at the growing role of parents in higher education will be shared by many in universities whose own parents' job in their college days was to deliver and collect them at the start and end of term, feed them up during holidays and avoid embarrassing them by any other manifestations. Nowadays, parents expect to get involved. This may be welcome, but for academic and administrative staff it must often feel like yet another distraction.

Parent participation is part of the rise of the consumer culture. Parental means are assessed for student support and parents often pay de facto for their children's university education. They feel increasingly entitled to take an interest in the product they are buying.

But Furedi may be wide of the mark when he takes aim at lifelong learning as an infantilising process. Knowledge now grows so rapidly that the measles approach to education (get it young, get it over with) no longer works. And life is no longer the simple procession from education to work to pension that it once was. Why should people not go to college for the first or second time when they have long ceased to be teenagers, either to get skills to support their jobs, or just for pleasure? For everyone who is infantilised, someone else is empowered. This is not problematic if it is done with skill. Provided education is a two-way process in which people of any age are participants rather than receptacles, they should be encouraged to go on joining in.

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