Expanding higher education to facilitate lifelong learning


​​​​​​​The Role of Higher Education in Promoting Lifelong Learning, Edited by: Jin Yang, Chripa Schneller and Stephen Roche, Published in 2015 by UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, Pages: 198, ISBN: 978-92-820-1194-2

Around the world, the proportion of older adults is increasing day by day. These people have much to contribute to the development of society. Therefore, it is important that they have the opportunity to learn on equal terms with the young, and in age-appropriate ways. Their skills and abilities need to be recognized, valued and utilized. There is no doubt that universities have a vital role to play in promoting lifelong learning, and in recent decades the international education com-munity has given emphasis on lifelong learning for higher education. The book “The Role of Higher Education in Promoting Lifelong Learning”, which emerged from a seminar held in 2012 to mark the 60th anniversary of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, addresses various ways that higher education can promote lifelong learning, paying due con-sideration to regional disparities and specificities.

The book begins with the chapter “Adult Access to Higher Education: An International Overview”, written by Michael Osborne, Russell Rimmer and Muir Houston, which looks at how adult access to higher education is becoming an ever more important factor in societal and economic progress. The authors attempt to explore the many factors underlying unequal access, including disability, socio-economic class, race, gender and location, and present a method for redressing inequality based on three levels of reform: regulatory and policy diversification; structural and functional di-versification; and ways of developing more open institutions. In conclusion, they pose the question whether access on its own is sufficient, and argue for the development of more flexible modes of learning provision, to improve not only access but also retention and progression.

The second chapter “From University Lifelong Learning to Lifelong Learning Universities: Developing and Implementing Effective Strategies” by Françoise de Viron and Pat Davies presents a brief overview of how the idea and practice of lifelong learning was adopted by European universities during the period 2005–2012. The authors high-light the main trends in ‘University Lifelong Learning’ development and its implementation over the last ten years, and identify the various approaches taken. This chapter proposes a proven approach and several tools for universities to develop their own strategy to become Lifelong Learning Universities, involving all relevant internal and external stakeholders.

The next chapter, written by Karsten Krüger, Nestor Duch, Marti Parellada, Mike Os-borne, Michele Mariani and Laureano Jiménez, entitled “The Social Efficiency of Tertiary Lifelong Learning: Initial Insights from a European Research Project” discusses an issue that affects most industrialized countries: the challenges and opportunities associated with an older (and therefore larger) workforce. It examines how ‘Tertiary Lifelong Learning’ can contribute to the well-being of older learners, and how European universities can respond to increasing demands for lifelong learning opportunities. Chapter-4 entitled “Higher Education in Lifelong Learning in South Africa” by Shirley Walters argues that lifelong learning policies in a middle income country such as South Africa necessarily balance the political and economic pressures of a young population with the need for learning opportunities throughout life to redress the failures of the school system, particularly for the poorest citizens. This article reflects on the last decade of higher education in lifelong learning, drawing on a national study on the impact of the South African Higher Education Qualifications on adult learners and a case study of one historically black university – University of Western Cape. It also describes the competing social, economic and political trends that influence adult access to and success in higher education.

The fifth chapter entitled “Higher education and lifelong learning in Japan: Why is It So Difficult to Promote Recurrent Education?”, written by Yukiko Sawano, begins with an overview of the development of lifelong learning policy in Japan since the 1970s and its influence on the planning of higher education. The author argues persuasively that the two key factors for the successful engagement of adults in higher education are in-dividual support systems for older learners and collaboration between universities and employers to facilitate re-training and re-learning. Universal access to higher education is likely to be realized and enhanced by the prevalence of innovations such as ‘Massive Open On-line Courses (MOOCs)’. The next chapter, authored by Minxuan Zhang and Jinjie Xu, “The Role of Universities in Elder Education: The Experience of Shanghai and Shanghai Normal University” elaborates how higher education can help to meet the learning needs of senior citizens. While examining the factors upon which the success of elder education in Shanghai has been built, this chapter also points out that government support, together with commitment from the university sector, is crucial in making lifelong learning for senior citizens a reality.

The seventh chapter entitled “Lifelong Learning in Practice” by Allie Clemans explores the potential of lifelong learning to increase learners’ engagement and application of knowledge within a variety of contexts. By identifying various lifelong and life-wide learning aspects in the lesson case, the author outlines how learners come to see the value of a lifelong learning approach. This chapter demonstrates that lifelong learning may extend its reach into higher education, transforming practices within it and positioning learners to engage more fully with a wide range of formal, non-formal, community and workplace learning. Chapter-8 entitled “The Parallel Adult Education System: A Danish Contribution to Lifelong Learning at University Level” by Bjarne Wahlgren looks at how the principles of lifelong learning have been implemented in Denmark’s universities, particularly through practice- and skills-based master’s programmes. Den-mark’s dual approach to academic qualification, established in 2001, allow university programmes to be organized according to one of two principles: the systematic acquisition of research-based knowledge, which increases in complexity; or knowledge acquisition based on the student’s (social and vocational) competences. This chapter identifies the rationale that adults in the labour market must have ‘access to learning and skills development throughout life’.

The book concludes with a case study by Roger Boshier entitled “From Marx to Market: Limitations of university-led ‘collaboration’ in the Yangpu Innovation Zone (Shanghai)”. The author first describes China’s ‘Plan 2011’ initiative, through which universities were urged (and funded) to study foreign models (e.g. Silicon Valley) and establish strategic alliances with businesses and communities. Though the ‘Plan 2011’ scheme was intended to emulate the easy flow of money, knowledge and people between private and public institutions in California, there are many stark differences between these two environments, even bearing in mind that Shanghai is probably China’s most highly developed city. This chapter systematically examines the factors that favor and impede Yangpu’s chances of becoming the leading “technology centre” in China.

Overall, this book constitutes a searching and wide-ranging exploration of how to expand and transform the role of universities in promoting life-long learning. Needless to say, the reform of higher education goes beyond mere pedagogy and didactics; it is a social process which links teaching and learning to students’ personal life patterns, their social and cultural context, and their chosen discipline. Given rapid changes in labour markets and societies, universities are expected to become more responsive to the work and life situation of adult learners, helping them not only acquire skills and knowledge, but also maintain and improve their situation in society and ultimately improve their quality of life.

The writer is an independent researcher.

  • Expanding higher education to facilitate lifelong learning
  • Issue 28
  • S. M. Rayhanul Islam
  • Vol 35
  • DhakaCourier

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