Lifelong Learning at University? The Importance of Part-time Study to meet European Lifelong Learning Targets
Since the OECD report Learning to Be (Edgar Faure, 1972), lifelong education and, later, lifelong learning became a major policy objective for governments across Europe and beyond. A valuable part of lifelong learning takes place at Higher Education Institutions. Many adult students wish to go to university in order to gain degrees – mainly to suit their employment needs but also to fulfill personal ambitions or for the sake of the subject alone. Most mature students have multiple responsibilities – work, family and caring responsibilities etc. It is, therefore, imperative that they be offered part-time study opportunities if access is to be facilitated for these students. A few Higher Education Institutions are genuinely welcoming to part-time students. However, the majority of institutions tend to regard part-time study as the exception to the norm, namely full-time study. Part-time study to suit the needs of adults, who are working full-time, is still very much a prerogative of Departments or Centres of Lifelong Learning and a few vocationally oriented Departments. This paper argues that there is a considerable discrepancy between the policy context, which advocates lifelong learning at all levels, and HE practice – something that is very much connected to the way institutions are funded. In Wales, the recently published Independent Review of Part-Time Higher Education Study in Wales makes the case for a fair and flexible funding system for part-time study in HE. At the time of writing it is still not decided whether the Welsh Assembly is going to endorse its recommendations. This paper will be shown that part-time study in the UK (focusing especially on Wales) is an increasingly important part of the HE landscape and that, if European lifelong learning targets are to be met, funding regimes and institutional practice will have to change considerably.
Keywords: Lifelong Learning, Higher Education, Part-Time Study, British Higher Education, Welsh Higher Education, British Higher Education Policy, Welsh Higher Education Policy, European Higher Education Policy
Dr. Alyce von Rothkirch
Lecturer, Department for Adult Continuing Education, University of Wales Swansea