Saturday, July 19, 2014

Another blow

There were two models adopted by adult education, particularly in the university sector. The first used high fees and rarefied subjects to run self-financing courses with the majority of students being affluent enthusiasts. The second was to engage with the community, work with trade unions and the voluntary sector, teach in prisons and outreach areas, and the like. That was the route we chose in Hull. Funding regimes changed. We closed.

And now that dilemma is hitting the City Lit in London, the largest adult education centre in Europe. I have a personal connection, my first boss in Manchester went off there to be principal and saved them from a near terminal crisis. A man of horrifying energy, he left early, utterly exhausted, to be a freelance adult education tutor and consultant. I am still in touch with him even after all these years.

And it appears that the City Lit is now choosing to go down the self-financing route at the expense of Access courses and the like. The Guardian report imposes its own agenda by denigrating 'hobby courses', which those of us who have worked in adult education know can be life savers for many and safe entry points for others, but it makes it clear that the erosion of Access courses is particularly damaging.

In another report on education, this time about universities, Aditya Chakrabortty starts with this anecdote:
Last November a letter appeared in the London Review of Books that should be carved into stone. It recalled a reception held in the early 90s at the British embassy in Tokyo, where some attache was guffing on about how the dreaming spires of Albion were going to become centres of enterprise – just like the private sector. On hearing this, a normally "polite and reserved" Japanese professor felt moved to protest: "Your universities – they will follow British business model? But British business is … I am sorry … it is not well. It is dead, and your universities are famous and respected. They are not dead."
It is when management talk about being more like businesses when you know you are in trouble. Because they would make lousy business managers too.

We can say the same about adult education. It was one of this country's success stories; thriving, entirely voluntary and open to all without any restrictions at all levels. And if you want a sense of how important it is and what second chance education can achieve, read this feature on the NUS student of the year, Natalie Atkinson.

And what have we done with it? Inspect the ruins and see.


ian said...

It was these so-called hobby courses that inspired the Pitman Painters of Ashington and have continued to inspire hundreds of thousands of people since. I despair.

Anton Deque said...

Hobby courses taught to grandparents who then go on to inspire grandchildren?

Oh, why try to be reasonable? These administrative idiots don't know what they are holding and so casually throw away! Imbeciles, self serving careerists! Everything they touch turns to dross. Be gone!

The Plump said...

If you go the comments, you will see that the person who was quoted says that it was taken out of context. She said that is the danger of what the City Lit could become and that she saw the importance of non-vocational short courses for community engagement. But the sentiment is rife and is one of the prejudices that weakened adult education's appeal to the political class of all parties.