Lifelong learning trumps trendy

September 22, 2016

I write this letter as an employee of the University of Leicester, specifically the Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning, a department that the university is trying to close down. I am writing this letter in despair because the reason for the decision to close Lifelong Learning is a strategic one, meaning that the university wants to abandon the face-to-face part-time teaching we do. This leads me to the question, put to me by a journalist, of why is adult learning just not trendy enough for Paul Boyle, our new vice-chancellor?

I think the main problem is that our vice-chancellor just doesn’t understand what we do and have done for 150 years. We provide accessible higher education courses that people can do alongside work or other commitments, for students who can’t attend full-time courses. This is our focus, not an afterthought or an aside to mainstream undergraduate teaching. We run courses such as counselling, a discipline enhanced through greater life-experience; not many 18-year-olds choose to start counselling, yet counsellors are vital to the well-being of the country. We also provide specialised pastoral and study skills support, as adult learners have different needs and experiences to 18-year-olds and often need that extra support to get back into studying, not to mention the fact that it is often second to working or family life. We do this with passion, not only for the subjects we teach but also for the students who we help to achieve a potential they never believed possible. This is why there has been such strong opposition to the closure.

So it appears that what we do in the dark evenings in unassuming classrooms when most academics are at home is not trendy. True, our students will not end up on the university’s posters – they are an unseen side of university life – but they are a pleasure to teach. I have never met groups of such engaged and interested students, nor have I taught students from whom I have learned so much as those I teach at Vaughan. It is wonderful to see the transformations that happen through lifelong learning; students who build up their own confidence and go on to have understanding, acceptance and often careers that they never thought possible. To me it is this that makes adult learning transcend trendy; it makes it vital. This is why for me it is so heart-breaking to see it cut so mindlessly.

Elizabeth Bryant
Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning
University of Leicester

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