The Universities Association for Lifelong Learning (UALL) annual conference was held in York on the 6th and 7th of April. The conference themes highlighted the local, regional and international dimensions of lifelong learning. The introductory plenary by Professor Karen Stanton, Vice Chancellor of York St Johns University, highlighted the challenges that adult education faces. In England, mature HE enrolments have fallen by nearly a third since the introduction of the high fee regime. In Scotland, although the policy environment is different, there has been a steep decline in part-time provision through the college sector and major reductions in the opportunities offered through Community Learning Development. However, Karen noted emerging themes in policy agendas in which lifelong learning is critically important.
The presentations at the conference reflected the conference themes and were clustered into four main areas: Pedagogy, partnership, work based-learning / professional development and outreach. Contributions from Scandinavia on innovative, work-based approaches to professional education were particularly interesting. The OEPS contribution was entitled ‘Creating openly licensed courses for use in workplace and community settings’. In it we looked at the pressures on third-sector organisations with an interest in education and training as a result of the decline in mainstream adult education provision.
In the UK organisations that are not part of the formal education sector play an important role in supporting lifelong learning. Third sector organisations and trade unions are prominent in this activity although public and private employers also play a part. For the third sector the last decade has been a time of significant change, with reductions in funding, changes in role and a need to adapt to new educational demands driven by the rapid increase in the availability and use of digital technology. The OEPS presentation drew on evidence from a large-scale project in Scotland that aimed to increase the use of free and openly licensed online courses by non-traditional learners. It explored the ways in which the third sector is responding to new challenges and looked at the advantages that online learning and openly licensed educational resources have for organisations engaged in promoting online learning. We examined the advantages that online learning and openly licensed educational resources have for such organisations and reflected on the nature and value of educational partnerships that work across the informal/formal boundary and explored examples of where such partnerships extend to the coproduction of new educational materials and educational practice. We then outlined the challenges that such partnerships present and outlined how we had incorporated approaches drawn from participatory design in the Learning Design workshops we have facilitated with partners. We noted that as a result, partners develop insight into the learner context at the same time as challenging deep-seated perceptions and assumptions about appropriate practice and pedagogy.
The UALL 2017 awards winner was also announced at the conference and went to the Brighton based community project ‘The Bevy‘. We were pleased that the OEPS project was runner up and highly commended. This is recognition for all those individuals and organisations which have participated in the multiple strands of the OEPS project and shared practice, ideas and creativity.