Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Context of Post-Compulsory Education

Peace, one and all...
This is an essay I originally wrote during the second year of my PGCE. I've posted it here for your viewing pleasure! Enjoy!
The Context of Post-Compulsory Education: Lifelong Learning at Cardiff University

The purpose of this essay is to discuss the development of Lifelong Learning at Cardiff University, with special emphasis on the work carried out within the Religious Studies department. A particular focus will be on analysing the impacts of wider policy and theoretical changes on local practice.

Before we begin our analysis, we need to look briefly at the concept of Lifelong Learning and its development as an educational theory.

From its origins in the late 1970s, Lifelong Learning has arguably become the most important concept in continuing education today (Coffield, 1996, 1-16; Field & Leicester, 2000, xvi-xix; Longworth & Davies, 1996, 7-20). Indeed, for some, it represents a real paradigm shift away from older ideas of adult education towards a more-student centred inclusive approach. This drive towards the knowledge society, diversification and social inclusion is felt to lie at the heart of Lifelong Learning. Thus, Smith & Spurling (1999) argue in the following terms:
‘…the injustice of the nation’s unequal learning record; the calamity of the UK economy, trapped in a pit of low skill and poor application of knowledge; and the conviction that a way towards a more humane and civilised society can be found through lifelong learning, centre on ethical and democratic principles’
(Smith & Spurling, 1999, 3).
As can be seen from this quote, Lifelong Learning seeks to address three key areas: educational inequality, poorly developed skills and ‘ethical’ growth. The strong emphasis on social cohesion and development is one of the hallmarks of Lifelong Learning theorists (see Williamson, 1998, 1-17). Consequently, there is an ideological drive towards inter-connection (see Chapman & Astin, 1997, especially 167-170; Longworth & Davies, 1996). In other words, there is a growing recognition that true societal change through learning can only take place through the collective efforts of society as a whole.

Another distinctive aspect of Lifelong Learning is its focus on economic development. Poor economic engagement is a major social issue in contemporary Britain and Lifelong Learning is seen as one of the key means of overcoming such problems and thereby developing the much-touted ‘Knowledge Economy’. Despite the apparent challenge to current inequalities, it is interesting to note that the way these ideas are expressed through the medium of Lifelong Learning is avowedly capitalist, as Milliband makes abundantly clear:

‘capitalism is more firmly embedded in the social order than it ever was … Market relations are insistently praised as the most desirable form of individual and social interaction; and there never has been a time when commercialisation has more thoroughly come to pervade all spheres of life’
(Milliband, 1994, 10, quoted in Watson & Taylor, 1998, 16).

Smith & Spurling (1999, 9) argue that Lifelong Learning consists of two distinct elements. The first is defined as empirical, in that it refers to factual content. The second element is a moral, in which Lifelong Learning is said to have a distinct ethic. In gaining a sense of ideas and values common to much of the literature on the subject, it is worth looking at these in a little more detail. The empirical element is believed to include:

· Learning throughout the lifespan
· Wide boundaries: learning should transcend, and implicitly challenge, perceived ideas
· Continuity: in that the learning is more or less continuous
· Intention and planning: lifelong learning should be intended and planned

Smith & Spurling argue that the moral element of Lifelong Learning should include:

Personal commitment: lifelong learners should take an active and sustained interest in their own learning

Social commitment: in other words, learners recognise their obligation to share their learning with others

Respect for others’ learning: in other words, the rights of all individuals and organisations involved in learning are respected and valued

Respect for truth: in other words, the learner should subject their own internal lives to what they have learned, changing values which are demonstrably at odds with new evidence (adapted from Smith & Spurling, 1999, 10-11)

Having discussed the development of Lifelong Learning as an educational theory, we can now begin our exploration of the peculiar experience of Cardiff. Given the changing nature of the field, it seems best to give a very brief overview of the current arrangement and then to trace the origins of the present reality through the last fifteen or so years.

At present, the Centre for Lifelong Learning at Cardiff runs all of the University’s continuing education provision. This is, in the main, delivered either through the Centre’s academic staff or else through part-time tutors. Courses are arranged into subjects (of which there are currently approximately fifteen) and each subject is overseen by a Co-ordinating Lecturer, who is usually a full-time member of the Centre’s staff (see Centre for Lifelong Learning, 2005, 20). As members of the Centre, Co-ordinators must also liaise with the relevant internal academic departments. Thus, the Co-ordinator for Welsh (and an experienced lecturer in her own right) works in consultation with the University’s School of Welsh. One of the key roles for the Co-ordinator is the development of new courses. Religious Studies is, by contrast, organised somewhat differently. The Co-ordinator (in this case myself) works as a member of both the Centre and the internal academic School. This has meant that the role of liaison is more forcefully emphasised here than elsewhere.

Cardiff University has been involved in continuing education since the late 1970s. During the 1980s, its courses were delivered through the Department of Extra Mural Studies. The department’s explicit aim was to offer:

‘a meeting-point – between the university and the general public of south-east Wales, between those who have received much formal education and those who say not have done so, between people interested in furthering their vocation or career and those who wish to pursue a subject for its own sake as a leisure interest’ (Dept. of Extra Mural Studies, 1990, 4)

In pursuance of this aim, the department offered a Diploma in Extra Mural Studies (ibid, 4-5). The Diploma’s chief function was to provide a structure for either learning for its own sake (as a leisure activity) or else as a platform for University entry, in much the same manner as Access courses. ‘Religion’ was one of the subjects in which the Diploma could be gained, from the successful completion of certain courses (see Dept. of Extra Mural Studies, 1990, passim; 1991, passim for examples).

In 1992, the Department underwent a major period of reform, ultimately becoming the Department for Continuing Education. The nature of these reforms are interesting and shed some light on the workings of continuing education within the context of Higher Education at this time.

There were two key debates regarding continuing education at Cardiff during the mid-nineties. The first was financial. How was the University to utilise its resources to deliver its objectives in as cost effective a manner as possible. The second issue was organisational structure. In particular, this related to delivery methods: should the department employ subject experts of its own, or should it play more of a consultative, organising role – merely ‘buying in’ teaching from the relevant academic schools? These debates took a number of years to resolve, with the result that the department continues to employ its own subject specialists.

The change of title also reflected a desire to move with the times. By the mid-nineties, the term ‘extra mural studies’ had come to sound rather dated and was furthermore associated with a particular type of education. ‘Continuing Education’ by contrast was designed to appear more inclusive:

‘The Department has changed its name, to a modern one which recognises the broad coverage of our work and is also our mission statement…’
(Dept. of Continuing Education, 1992, ii)

Further evidence of the move to greater inclusion can be seen in the opening in the same year of a Centre for Continuing Vocational Education (ibid., 4). Vocational education has long been a feature of part-time and evening classes and in this sense, the new Centre was not unusual. However, the new focus on making vocational learning explicit marked something of a departure and mirrored attempts within the wider educational world to draw out and hence strengthen this growth area (for further discussion see Reeve et al, 2002; Longworth & Davies, 1996, 57-72). Some representative examples of this trend include European Union and UK government statements on the need to place continuing education on a more vocational footing (EU, 2005)

Moreover, the Diploma was placed on a more formal footing and given virtual equality with Access courses (ibid, 102). Despite this, students still had to (and still have to) negotiate entrance to undergraduate courses on a case by case basis, with different academic schools having different requirements. Although Religious Studies was still an integral part of the Diploma, the organisational structure behind this subject meant that it was more difficult to draw up a coherent plan. At that time, the role of Co-ordinator was combined with that of School Administrator, which meant that continuing education was merely one competing role amongst many.

During the mid-nineties, Lifelong Learning rose to educational, social and ultimately, political prominence (Coffield, 1996, 1-16; Field & Leicester, 2000, xvi-xix). As we saw above, this was partly a result of developments in educational theory – particularly in its growing inter-dependence with sociological disciplines. Thus, education has increasingly been placed within its societal context – being seen to be a part of and move within, a particular social and cultural framework (Williamson, 1998).

Another factor behind the rise of Lifelong Learning was its take up by government. Central government’s enthusiastic involvement with Lifelong Learning can be seen growing in strength during the mid-nineties. 1996 was a particularly important year, with the European Year of Lifelong Learning and the publication of a government White Paper, entitled Lifetime Learning: A Policy Framework (EU, 2005; Elliott, 1996, 31)[1]. Within this influential document we find an important statement of the then government’s view of Lifelong Learning:

‘Lifetime Learning is not a Government programme, or the property of one institution. It is a shared goal relating to the attitudes and behaviour of many employers, individuals ad organisations. Government has a part to play but governments alone cannot achieve the cultural changes involved in making a reality of lifetime learning’.
(DfEE, 1996, 4 quoted in Elliott, ibid).

Whilst shared responsibility is a cornerstone of Lifelong Learning, it could be argued (somewhat cynically) that one reason for its popularity with the government is that much of the work is, in a sense, privatised. This may be seen as another indication of the capitalist uses to which Lifelong Learning can be put. The point perhaps becomes clearer when the wider context of HE during this period is explored. The expansion of the UK HE sector during the nineties has produced a much larger pool of graduates; in such an environment, there is a drive to acquire something extra, which undoubtedly accounts for some of the rise in ongoing vocational education (newly re-packaged as Continuing Professional Development).

These changes in the wider educational climate were mirrored at Cardiff by another organisational transformation. In 1998, the Department was renamed, becoming the Department for Continuing Education and Professional Development (Dept. for Continuing Education and Professional Development, 1998, 2). Amongst other things, the key driver of this change came from central government: ‘The Government’s backing of lifelong learning for all has boosted interest in part-time education…’ (Dept for Continuing Education and Professional Development, ibid). Despite these changes, owing to its peculiar organisational structure, Religious Studies proceeded in much the same way as it had done previously. This was partly due to high staff turnover and partly to the slightly anomalous manner in which it was administered.

The Department evolved into its current form in 1999, becoming the Centre for Lifelong Learning. The apparent rational behind this change was to provide a more user-friendly, accessible service (Centre for Lifelong Learning, 1999, 3). In essence, this brings us to the current system outlined above. From here, we will therefore concentrate on a number of key themes affecting Lifelong Learning as it currently exists at Cardiff University.

The introduction of the Credit Accumulation and Transfer System (CATS) has arguably been the most important challenge facing the Centre in recent years. The credit system, designed to encourage modularisation and easy transfer between institutions, involved the department in some major reorganisation. In particular, the issue of equivalency between old and new course formats required careful thought and implementation.

Within recent years, one of the most important challenges facing Lifelong Learning at Cardiff has been the withdrawal funding for non-accredited courses. Although this money has been transferred to the Centre’s Widening Access budget, this removal has had two major impacts. Firstly, it has meant that the cost of non-accredited courses has risen sharply. This has on occasion led to excluding the very people that Lifelong Learning is trying to reach. It has also, more indirectly, led to a further growth in vocational training.

Secondly, these changes have given further impetus to the drive towards accreditation. This is due to the fact that non-accredited courses have risen appreciably in price since the removal of funding. The subsequent pressure for credits has further reinforced this trend. In order to qualify for credits, a student must attempt (though not necessarily pass) all of the relevant coursework. This has led to a change in emphasis away from the more old-fashioned ‘leisure’ view of continuing education towards a more business-related ethic. Indeed, Lifelong Learning is itself oriented towards such professionalisation. It is also due to a more general rise in interest in accreditation. This seems to be an increasingly important phenomenon. As modularisation has taken hold and a more flexible view of education has developed, accredited courses have become more popular at Cardiff.

The rise of Continuing Professional Development is another important feature of Lifelong Learning at Cardiff. As we saw above, vocational education has long been a feature of continuing education. In recent years, however, the link with business and professional growth has been strengthened in an explicit and concrete manner. A reflection of this change at Cardiff was the addition of CPD was to the department’s title in 1998 (see above). This has also led to the creation of a separate CPD group within the Centre and, with devolution, has led to a growth in tailor made courses, especially in the area of Welsh language training.

All of these issues affect Religious Studies as it currently stands. Two important challenges face Lifelong Learning within Religious Studies. The first is financial. Given the changes outlined above, part-time courses operate within a much stricter financial regime. This means that only decisions regarding new courses are made against the backdrop of financial viability. The second relates to structural issues. Specifically, the somewhat anomalous structure of Lifelong Learning provision within Religious Studies has made it more difficult to make inter-connections within the Centre.

In conclusion, the theory of Lifelong Learning offers an important and timely re-evaluation of continuing education within the context of contemporary society. Its major strength is that it seeks to develop a joined-up approach to delivery and includes a very strong economic component. The Centre for Lifelong Learning at Cardiff has evolved to take these changes into account. The main challenge over the last ten years at least has been in finding a strong organisational system with which to deploy learning that is truly life long. The committed staff (and students) of the Centre make such development likely. The main question is how to develop a proper structure in which the Centre’s work can be refined. In the end, despite challenges, developing a more flexible educational system is important, necessary and hopefully enjoyable, work: ‘Remember, lifelong learning is not a prison sentence but an invitation to pleasure, achievement and progress’ (Centre for Lifelong Learning, 1999, 3).

Bibliography

Centre for Lifelong Learning (1999), Choices, Cardiff: Cardiff University

Centre for Lifelong Learning (2005), Choices, Cardiff: Cardiff University

Chapman, J. D. & Aspin, D. N. (1997), The School, the Community and Lifelong Learning, London:
Cassell

Coffield, F. (1996, ed.), Higher Education and Lifelong Learning, Newcastle: University of
Newcastle upon Tyne

Coffield, F. (1999a, ed.), Speaking Truth to Power, Bristol: The Policy Press

Coffield, F. (1999b, ed.), Why’s the Beer Always Stronger Up North?, Bristol: The Policy Press

Department for Continuing Education (1992), Part-time Continuing Education Courses for the
Public 1992-1993, Cardiff: Cardiff University Press

Department for Continuing Education (1995), Part-time Courses for the Public 1995-1996, Cardiff:
Cardiff University

Department for Continuing Education and Professional Development (1998), Choices: Adult
Education Prospectus 1998-1999, Cardiff: Cardiff University Press

Department for Extra Mural Studies (1990), Part-time Continuing Education Courses for the Public
1990-1991, Cardiff: Cardiff University Press

Department for Extra Mural Studies (1991), Part-time Continuing Education Courses for the Public
1991-1992, Cardiff: Cardiff University Press

Edwards, R. et al. (2002, eds.), Supporting Lifelong Learning Volume 3: Making Policy Work,
London: Routledge Falmer

Elliott, G. (1999), Lifelong Learning: the Politics of the New Learning Environment, London: Jessica
Kingsley Publishers

European Commission (2005), Lifelong Learning,
http://europa.eu.int/comm/education/policies/lll/lll_en.html accessed Monday 11th April

Field, J. (2002, ed.), Promoting European Dimensions in Lifelong Learning, Leicester: NIACE

Field, J. & Leicester, M. (2000), Lifelong Learning: Education Across the Lifespan, London:
Routledge Falmer

Harrison, R. et al. (2002, eds.), Supporting Lifelong Learning Volume 1: Perspectives on Learning,
London: Routledge Falmer

Longworth, N. & Davies, W. K. (1996), Lifelong Learning, London: Kogan Page

Smith, J. & Spurling, A. (1999), Lifelong Learning: Riding the Tiger, London: Cassell

Watson, D. & Taylor, R. (1998), Lifelong Learning and the University: a Post-Dearing Agenda,
London: Falmer Press

Williamson, B. (1998), Lifeworlds and Learning, Leicester: NIACE

Footnotes
[1] For a further exploration of the European dimensions of current approaches to Lifelong Learning, see Field, 2002.

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