Time to put lifelong learning back at the heart of ‘civic universities’

Universities will reap commercial and academic benefits by tapping into the skills of older people on lifelong learning courses, an academic has argued.

August 31, 2011

John Goddard, emeritus professor of regional development studies at Newcastle University, told delegates at a European University Association conference in Southampton today that lifelong learning is too often viewed by universities as a “poor relation” to normal degree programmes or merely a “cash cow”.

Professor Goddard, a former deputy vice-chancellor at Newcastle, said institutions need to connect teaching, research and lifelong learning to fully benefit from the range of academic and business skills within a community.

Lifelong learning is often too isolated from the main activities of the institution, he argued. But greater links between activities could reap financial and academic rewards through improved knowledge exchange, as well as producing “well-rounded citizens”.

He said universities needed to “reinvent” the idea of the “civic university”, so it is “globally connected but locally embedded in the communities it serves”.

“In such a university lifelong learning ceases to be a poor relation or even a cash cow, but a core function delivering…students who can connect the worlds of thought and action on an ongoing basis,” he said.

The conference at the University of Southampton also marked the publication of a report into lifelong learning at universities across Europe.

Engaging in Lifelong Learning: Shaping Inclusive and Responsive University Strategies is based on the outcomes of a two-year European Commission-supported project involving 29 universities from 18 different European countries, which has been led by the EUA.

Hanne Smidt, co-author of the report, said: “The project results indicate that, while national legal and financial frameworks play an important role for universities, the single most important push factor for developing successful lifelong learning, has been the active engagement of university leadership in creating inclusive and responsive university strategies”.


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