Lifelong learners can work out at gym for the mind

October 8, 2009

Baroness Deech, the former head of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, once likened studying for a university degree to going to the gym: you pay your money, but you have to put in the work to get fit.

Now her analogy has been given a further dimension by the University of Sunderland, which has launched a lifelong-learning scheme that follows the model of gym membership.

Lifelong-learning departments around the country have been closing since the Government's decision to stop funding equivalent or lower-level qualifications.

At Sunderland, about 60 per cent of lifelong-learning students hold a previous tertiary qualification, meaning that they receive no Government funding. But the university hopes it has found a solution.

Under the North East Centre for Lifelong Learning's Explore Membership Scheme, which is billed as a "gym for the mind", members pay one monthly fee that allows them to attend as many sessions as they want, whenever they want, rather than paying to join one single course.

About half the programme is in the form of one-off lectures, seminars, day schools and discussion groups; the other half comprises pre-bookable courses.

The current season offers 600 hours of provision over 30 subjects, with 50 expert tutors.

Courses run six days a week, during the daytime, over lunch and in the evenings in Newcastle.

The scheme is financed entirely by membership fees, with the cost coming in at about £250 for a year's subscription.

Ian Ground, senior lecturer in philosophy and Explore team leader, said: "People's eyes light up when they realise the possibilities. For example, if someone has always wondered what philosophy is, this means they don't have to pay out for an entire course only to discover that they don't like it. People can find their own pathway."

Students do not earn credits, but those who want feedback can obtain it for a small additional fee, which pays for the additional time required of the tutor.

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