Greetings from Cambridge UK. I had the good fortune to join the University Association for Lifelong Learning’s annual conference here in Cambridge. Being in Cambridge is simply a thrill — walking the streets and visiting the colleges is more than worth the trip. While I took hundreds of photos, the pictures do not do justice to the beauty and majesty of the Colleges of Cambridge.
The theme of the UIALL conference is Higher Education for the Social Good? The Place of Lifelong Learning. The conference began Sunday evening with a wonderful reception, with a book signing by Adrian Barlow in celebration of his recently published book called Extramural: Literature and Lifelong Learning.
He begins his book asking what we should call what we do as professional continuing educators. In one of its earliest forms it was called extramural education, and from there it has been called extension, continuing education, outreach and engagement, and others. In some ways, he argues that we change the name to fit the needs of whichever political party is in charge. While I don’t believe this to be the case in the US, he does make the argument that extramural remains a descriptive term because universities can “resemble medieval walled towns with their gatehouses, towers, and halls…[and] so, the idea of scholars leaving their research to go and take their scholarship to those outside the academic community is well summed up as ‘extramural.”
The first full day of the conference was Monday, and I learned from the presentations and my conversations with my UK colleagues that they are facing many similar issues as we are in the US. For example, they are exploring ways to better interact with business and industry, whether it be with undergraduate and graduate programs or workforce development. In other ways, as institutions it seems that some have gone full circle from being part of their local community to concentrating on research, and now have come around again to becoming more a part of the community. In some ways, they are returning to their roots of collaborating with their local communities in addressing local needs. Like most US institutions, they too are wrestling with how to be an engaged institution.
They have also found themselves in the role of what I call being the translator; we see more and more business terms being used in academia, and they (like us) are helping to interpret these terms to their colleagues in academic departments.
And while they become more engaged, they are trying to find ways of better organizing and accounting for all of the engagement activities on their campuses. This particular issue hits very close to home for my own institution; I’ve found, and the UK institutions are finding, that there are all sorts of wonderful engagement activities going on at their institution. The issue then becomes how best to track and organize these activities so that the community can have one point of contact.
I want to close this post by sharing two WOW moments I had while in Cambridge UK
First, Monday night we were hosted at the Cambridge Press for cocktails. Not only did I find myself surrounded by any number of volumes published by this venerable press, but the Cambridge Press bookstore is in a building that has been a bookstore since the 1500s.
The other WOW moment came at dinner. Our dinner was held in the Great Hall of Clare College, and it was magnificent. It was a room with a head table and long tables stretched out in front with stained glass windows, surrounded by wood paneling. It was really quite something. And of course, the experience brought out my inner Harry Potter….expecto patronum.