Tuesday, June 21, 2016

GUEST POST Save the University of Leicester's Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning

Sally Birch is leading the campaign to save Leicester's Vaughan College.

Last week, I received an email. An email from the University Of Leicester, the University that I currently attend, informing me that they had proposed to close the Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning (VCLL).

The VCLL is a unique centre that since 1925 has been part of the University of Leicester. It was formed in 1862 and went by the name of Vaughan College. Vaughan College was created by Rev. David Vaughan to provide access to education for the working people of Leicester, many of whom had left school to work, and who had received little or no education at all. The College was a forerunner for adult education in Britain, and predates the famous Ruskin College in Oxford. Since 1862,

Vaughan College has seen some transformations, but has successfully delivered adult education to the citizens of Leicester and Leicestershire ever since. Three years ago, the University acquired Vaughan College, renamed it the VCLL, and moved it onto the main University campus. This enabled the University to sell the purpose built building next to Jewry Wall in the city centre.

At this time there were many concerns raised, as it was felt that there may be an ulterior motive behind the move to main campus, and many people including lecturers and students were concerned that the ‘ grass roots’ ethos within the VCLL would be lost if they were to move onto the main campus.

A campaign was launched for VCLL to keep its independence, and remain an accessible establishment off the main campus. The Vice Chancellor at the time publicly gave his assurances, and the Pro Vice-Chancellor Mark Thompson was featured in the Leicester Mercury underlining the University’s commitment to adult learning.

However three years down the line, here we are. I am a 33-year-old woman, mother, employee and a student. My path to education is being terminated by the University of Leicester. I have been told that the degree I was hoping to complete, the BA Hons in Arts and Humanities, will no longer be possible. I will no longer be able to continue my studies as they are ‘proposing’ to close down the department.

The university has said that it is in a consultation period, but at the same time, I have received an email from the pro-vice chancellor Julie Coleman informing me that, “I understand that the decision is a disappointing one, but it should not mark the end of your educational aspirations.”

Is this proposal really in a period of consultation? The University have issued statements saying the centre is running at a loss, but figures show that the profits were up 24 per cent last year. Officially the students haven’t been given a direct reason for this closure.

We haven’t been consulted, we haven’t been invited in for a meeting. From senior bodies within the University there has been a distinct lack of communication. Staff within VCLL, have been supportive, but there is a general feeling that they aren’t able to say very much at this time as they are in a period of consulting.

So as a first-year student, an adult learner, I have been told that the plans that I have made - my pursuit of a higher education - are no longer viable. My hopes of gaining a degree, then progressing on to become a teacher one day, are no longer important to the University of Leicester.

It seems that they have no place for mature students in their manifesto, that we do not fit into the required category, we do not tick the box… we are past our sell by date. We are being written off.

As a mother, a person who works, a person who has a mortgage to pay and all the responsibilities that go with being an adult, I was also prepared to take on a student loan and put myself in debt to gain an education. I wanted to gain an education in the institute that, for the last 150 years or more, has been providing adults with access to higher education from an institute that has existed in Leicester before the University itself.

I think of all those who have gone before me, I think all of the 350 students currently on role and I think of the potential for all the students of the future and the catastrophic mistake that the university is making. The university is quite simply denying a whole sector of people of the right to become educated

I have set up a petition to save the VCLL, and currently we have nearly 2000 signatures. We have a Facebook page and a Twitter account..

I will do everything possible to fight for my right to be educated. I will speak for all of my fellow students, all of whom have a story, all of whom want more than anything to continue their studies. I speak for all of those who have gained an education through VCLL in it various forms and I will speak for all of the future generations of adult students who should have the right to access higher education, regardless of their background.

Please help support me and my fellow students in our campaign, by signing our petition.

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