Liberal demise

November 5, 2015

Clare Callender incisively describes the decline in part-time undergraduate study since 2010-11 (“We must act now to save part-time university education”, Opinion, 29 October).  My former employer, the University of Hull, provides an instructive case study that is replicated in many other universities with a likewise distinguished record of liberal adult education.

I was appointed to a lectureship in industrial relations in the adult education department in 1975 (later to be the Centre for Lifelong Learning) and after early retirement in 2000 worked part-time until 2011. During that period, I taught on a variety of courses, including release classes for NHS and local government trade union representatives, a paid educational leave scheme for Grade 1-3 local authority workers from the then Humberside County Council, and a part-time degree in social and behavioural studies.

My department, for 80 years, had also provided a programme of open-access liberal adult education across most academic disciplines within an area comprising the city of Hull, the East Riding of Yorkshire, much of Lincolnshire and a large part of North Yorkshire. Courses were offered in the daytime and evening. They addressed two kinds of educational inequality: vertical disadvantage, facing those lacking the benefits of higher education, and horizontal disadvantage, for graduates who wished to compensate for specialisation by studying in other areas to broaden their education.

Changes in government funding in 2007, and later in the university’s own priorities, meant the disappearance of this liberal adult education with the closure of the Centre for Lifelong Learning in 2012. Its glitzily presented replacement of “open seminars, public lectures, festivals and a range of interesting and innovative activities” lacks a structure promoting sustained study.

University liberal adult education performed a vital function in promoting open and critical minds. It contributed to the personal intellectual and cultural development of a far wider cohort than its full-time undergraduate intake and to the potential role that as citizens we can play in a democracy.

Its demise is much to be regretted.

Michael Somerton
Retired senior lecturer
University of Hull

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