Lifelong Learning and Research Workshop
Some 50 delegates from seven U21 universities and other institutions gathered to attend the U21 Lifelong Learning workshop at University of Glasgow on 14th and 15th May. The workshop theme Lifelong Learning driving universities’ ambitions? Dare we? Can we? Let’s! was in keeping with recent discussion around the need for universities to recognise their contribution and responsibility to the regions in which they are located. U21 participating institutions were: University of Auckland, University of Glasgow, University of British Columbia, University College Dublin, Tecnológico de Monterrey, University of Nottingham, and University of Queensland.
Delegates were welcomed to the event by the University Secretary of University of Glasgow, David Newall, who among many duties will be the overall manager for Glagow's Open Programme of courses for adults from 2012/2013 onwards.
The event, hosted jointly by Universities of Auckland and Glasgow, was introduced by Professor Susan Geertshuis, who highlighted an opportunity for Lifelong Learning to locate its activity within university strategy, thereby claiming a central status rather than continuing to operate at the margins of academic provision. Participants were invited to identify the positive and negative attitudes to lifelong and adult education in order to better understand the contrasting perceptions of our work. The session generated discussion around whether a shift towards a more central strategic position within universities would jeopardise adult education’s ability to maintain a healthy critical practice. From a position on the margins, some argued, it can highlight the importance of inclusion and local engagement within Higher Education. Susan encouraged participants to use workshop as a means to ‘Refuse, Reframe, Refine and ‘Refink’ our ideas on how to locate our work and ensure we contribute fully to both our regions and our universities.
A workshop on enriching the student body drew on diverse experience from Glasgow, Monterrey and Queensland demonstrating creative and inclusive practices for bringing adults into university degree programmes. Glasgow’s Access programme was the first in Scotland and has offered a route into degree programmes for non-traditional learners for more than thirty years. What began as a route into Arts and Social Sciences now provides access to degree programmes in Law, Business, Science and Accountancy as well. Alec McKinnon told us that the programme offers the necessary academic preparation but more importantly is supportive and accessible, enabling adults who may have no qualifications and have left school at fifteen to progress into degree courses. Tracking data were presented and speakers argued that the addition of pathways into subjects such as Law and Science prepare people for the highly-paid professions, opening up routes into prestigious qualifications. Graduates from the programme have many inspirational stories and represent a hard-to-reach group who may have never had any connection with HE before joining the course.
Martha Del Angel from Tecnológico de Monterrey described their unique example of enabling ‘third age’ professionals to study and share their experience with young undergraduates, helping them to develop employability skills and networks. In Queensland, the Boilerhouse Community Engagement Centre has been involved in engaged outreach since 1999, working on a range of initiatives from building social capital and engaging with culturally and linguistically diverse groups to offering after school activity to teenagers within the university campus. Professor Michael Cuthill highlighted the importance of the university co-producing projects with communities, families, NGOs and public sector, and of responding to what society needs. Together these three examples highlighted the need to research our own practice and to be able to deliver and demonstrate successful transitions of diverse students with ability into higher education.
Professor James Powell and Professor Josef Konvitz’s workshop asked delegates to consider the essence of their university’s commitment to society and how universities can actively engage with business and the community in creative ways. Salford University has developed a local innovation centre, which is open to the public and offers a local interface for business and community. They run a range of engagement projects, including a community reporters training programme. Participants were also invited to claim the benefits of adult learning by involvement in global benchmarking of good practice. In this way the expertise of university academics was available to communities in a collaborative and neutral setting. Professor Powell distributed copies of the Pascal Universities for A Modern Renaissance DVD to all delegates.
Professor Mike Osborne drew the day’s proceedings to a close with a summary of key issues that had arisen.
The workshop dinner gave workshop participants the chance to network informally and discuss mutual challenges across the sector: a valuable opportunity to gain support and insight into successful practices from around the world:
‘It was a very timely event for us as we are working on many of the issues which emerged. It was great to talk to colleagues in other institutions about what is happening and how they are addressing various challenges. Bairbre and I are keen to stay involved as we think this network has a lot of potential and is really relevant for us at the moment.’
Rhonda Wynne, University College Dublin
Day two began with an overview of the new ‘impact’ requirements of the UK’s Research Excellence Framework. University of Glasgow’s Professor James Conroy, member of the UK REF panel, outlined the opportunity this shift gives to anchor research proposals within regions by demonstrating their benefit to society and community, and welcomed the change from a focus on individual academic esteem towards social commitment. Professor Conroy explored the contribution that adult education/lifelong learning activities could have to enhancing research impact and so supporting academics across the institution. Thus Professor Conroy identified an additional and potentially critical role for adult educators within research-intensive universities.
In the first workshop of day two, Professor Sid Katz of University of British Columbia (UBC) gave delegates a taste of the creative UBC ‘Olympic Dialogue’ programme during Winter Olympics 2010 in Vancouver. He demonstrated how major events such as sport can provide a vehicle for national engagement and outreach giving an opportunity to open dialogue with diverse groups using media coverage, and reaching an audience who may not traditionally engage with higher education. UBC was able to act as a catalyst for dialogue, hosting discussion with major sporting figures as well as health professionals and academics. PhD students from the University of Glasgow, Anthony Davis (from Jamaica) and Olesya Nedvetskaya (from Russia) further illustrated community engagement through sport using current examples from Jamaica and Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games. Several delegates were inspired by this session and discovered new ways in which they could engage with high profile events and so make the relevance of their institutions apparent to a wider audience.
John Tibbitt of Glasgow introduced the group to the importance of technologies and shared a number of examples that reminded us that as adult educators we must embrace new technologies if we are to communicate effectively and to achieve the penetration or reach that we desire.
In the final workshop of the event, Susan Geertshuis returned to introduce strategic, organisational and financial frameworks within which to situate our work. Delegates were invited to collaborate in groups, discussing ideas for the unique contribution lifelong learning can make to university ambition. Groups identified many opportunities including being a catalyst for cross-disciplinary activity, getting involved in big, real life discussions, attracting strategically important targets groups, delivering research-informed teaching and helping communities to innovate and become entrepreneurial. Susan provided some useful analytical tools to enable us to reflect on strategic and financial dimensions of our work, as well as an understanding of the different cultures in which we are required to work.
Professor Mike Osborne concluded a creative and productive event by thanking U21, University of Glasgow and Susan from University of Auckland for offering the opportunity to come together and reflect on our lifelong learning practice, building new friendships and connections across institutions. All delegates have been registered on the RUR website where they can access presentations and webcasts from the Lifelong Learning workshop shortly and will have the opportunity to continue our dialogue. The next Pascal conference on the topic of ‘The role of HE in local and regional social and economic development’ will take place in Brest, France from 28-31 October 2012 to which delegates and all members of U21 were warmly welcome. A future meeting of this collaborative group would be arranged for 2013.