Sunday, June 12, 2016

The University of Leicester turns its back on adult education

I am proud to be a graduate of the University of Leicester (a part-time Masters in Victorian Studies many years ago, since you ask), but I think it has made a profoundly wrong move.

As the Leicester Mercury reported a few days ago:
Education bosses at the University of Leicester are proposing to close the Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning. 
It's believed the closure will result in the loss of several teaching and administration jobs.
Around 30 staff were issued with redundancy notices on Monday and a 90 day consultation period is now underway. Some 348 students currently study there.
There is a perception that universities are now keener on making money than discharging wider social responsibilities.

The University of Leicester spokesman quoted by the Mercury does nothing to dispel this. He said
the proposal came at a time when it was "committed to focusing on its world-class strengths, and to being financially sustainable." He added that the courses offered by the Vaughan Centre had operated at a loss for many years.
Admittedly, part-time degrees now seem hugely expensive next to MOOCs (massive online open courses) and the like, but there is still a social need for them.

Adult education is a great engine of social mobility and personal liberation. As Professor Sue Wheeler told the Mercury:
"The higher education and degree courses provided give those people who might not have succeeded at education the first time around, the chance to gain qualifications. They can study part-time for a fraction of the cost. It provides a real community service and that's what Vaughan College was originally set up to do back in 1862 when it first opened."
Another lecturer, who (tellingly) didn't wish to be named, told the paper she had seen first hand the: "wonderful ways in which it enriched the lives of local people through access to Higher Education".

Offering adult education to the local community should be a condition of an institution being allowed to confer degrees, At present they are too focused on serving dull middle-class children, not just from Britain, but from around the world.

However much money we pour into schools, there are those who will be too poor, too unhappy or too antagonistic to benefit from it. We need to make it possible for such people to come to further and higher education later in life.

There is a petition to Save the Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning. I have signed it and hope you will too.

Vaughan College was originally housed in a building on Holy Bones. Until 2013 it was housed in the building on the right of the photograph above. (The one directly opposite, seen across the Roman remains, is the Jewry Wall Museum.)


Peter Watson said...

Hi, I followed a link to this blog from LibDemVoice.
The loss of a resource like this centre at the University of Leicester is indeed a sad thing.
But this is against the backdrop of a "collapse in part-time and mature students studying at universities in England" which "threatens social mobility and economic performance and must be urgently addressed, according to a report into the effect of raising tuition fees." (
That raising of tuition fees, of course, is what Liberal Democrats in coalition government facilitated and supported, enthusiastically in many quarters, with the well-documented breaking of a pre-election pledge. Furthermore, this looked like part of a drive towards commercialising universities and treating students as customers. In this context, is it any surprise that universities might appear "keener on making money than discharging wider social responsibilities" (or at least not losing money)?

Jonathan Calder said...

The commercialisation of universities has been going on for years, probably decades, under governments of all colours.

By your logic, no one who is a member of any of the major parties is entitled to oppose it. I do not find that a useful argument.

Still, I hope you will sign the petition.

Peter Watson said...

To be honest, I was trying not to use the word "hypocritical" which seemed far too rude for a stranger visiting your blog, and I know that many Lib Dems disagreed with what was done by their leaders over tuition fees.

Essentially though, I was trying to point out that this sort of closure (I don't know the details about the Vaughan Centre) could be a direct result of the decisions and actions of Lib Dems in government. The numbers of mature and part-time students took an immediate hit when tuition fees were drastically increased, with a number of consequences in higher education (e.g. the Open University). I would prefer Lib Dems to accept some responsibility and move on to address the root causes of any problems arising from this, rather than attack a particular institution's response to the market place that Lib Dems helped to change (it may have been botched with nearly all universities charging the highest fee level for every course and the loan system obscuring the price of a university place, but it looked like the Coalition's changes were intended to transform radically the university system into more of a market with customers and sellers).

It is with genuine sadness that I have to single out Lib Dems for particular criticism because their leaders went on to do and defend exactly what they warned us the other parties would do, and the party still does not seem to have worked out how to move on from the Coalition years in order to win back supporters like me.

Phil Beesley said...

Vaughan College is a grade two listed building of the 1960s. It is very expensive and time consuming for changes to make it a place for contemporary education. I dare say the Richard Attenborough Centre building, 20 years old, is presenting a few challenges.

Wrt Peter Watson's comments about continuing education, I'm dismayed too about declining numbers of mature and part time students. But I don't think it's all a result of tuition fees in themselves. Successive governments have proclaimed high university entrance targets at 18 years which have changed perceptions about university/post-18 education.

Young people are expected to know what they want to study at 17 years, take a year out if they can afford it, study with a part time job for three/four years, get a graduate entry level job. Those expectations are a bigger barrier to self discovery for young adults than fees. If you don't know what you want to do at age 17 years, it's probably best to wait before applying for university.

This country needs to completely rethink the intentions of post-18 education. There's an awful load of good teaching that we want to preserve or recycle.

Peter Watson said...

@Phil Beesley "Young people are expected to know what they want to study at 17 years"
I'd be less disappointed with the current education system if it were as late as that!!

The current changes to A-levels (again, a Coalition thing that involved Lib Dems), regressing to the same system I went through 30 years ago, makes it more important to specialise with the right three subjects at 16 having chosen them at 15. At least with modular AS levels counting for half an A-level it was easier to study 4 subjects for a full year (and get 4 qualifications), deferring specialisation until significantly older and wiser (a year is a very long time for a 16 year old!). It was also easier to study an extra AS in year 13 if a pupil changed their mind (e.g. realised that medicine was a possibility if they studied AS biology).

I would prefer to see a system that was academically broader (and consequently shallower) up to 18 followed by a foundation year to specialise in preparation for a particular type of university course and career. Plenty of time for a child to make informed decisions, particularly if they are from a less well off background with little exposure to a range of professions and less knowledge of the requirements to enter them.

And that's before we get onto the importance of good vocational training rather than an academic education for many young people!

It saddens and disappoints me that not only did Lib Dems in Coalition fail to make the sort of progressive (radical, even) changes that I would like to have seen, but worse, they seemed happy to share the "credit" for Michael Gove's agenda in so many aspects of schooling and education.

Phil Beesley said...

@Peter Watson 40 years ago, lads at Manchester Grammar School studied many subjects up to the age of 16 but took two O Levels (Maths and English, requirements for university entrance or a professional career). Those who decided not to pursue A Levels stayed on an extra term to sit more O Levels. Boys who wanted to go to university specialised in three or four subjects at A Level, along with mandatory JMB General Studies.

I certainly don't want to turn back the clock. But I don't want to waste my taxes on pointless examination at age 16 of those who are performing well and who will perform well at A Level. It's also a waste of educators', students' and examiners' time. If a child scores an A in Maths and English and any other subject, the other results are noise.

In the UK, we're moving to a system that keeps young people in education to 18 years age. So schools and colleges don't have to do the same thing as before; young people should be able to pick up a GCSE or vocational equivalent at a later age. We bumble on thinking about bright students who fit the university mould; we are not necessarily thinking about young people in the round.
Bob served beer at my local pub before he started his job as a holiday resort assistant. Bob had a few GCSEs, served his apprenticeship and qualified as an electrician and determined that it wasn't for him. Bob did a holiday resort job, trained as a resort entertainer, worked as a child entertainer for charities.

Charities paid for Bob to be trained as a clown. Bob found a job at the circus and took his driving test on one of those accelerated schemes in Wales, but driving didn't suit Bob. Bob returned to clown entertainment with a charity serving children with terminal illnesses. Bob decided to become a nurse.

Bob achieved all of this in ten years of adulthood and outside formal educational systems.