By Dr Anna Pilz
In May 2015, I was invited to give a talk as part of Continuing Education’s Lecture Series on the history of the Centre for Lifelong Learning and Continuing Education at the University of Liverpool. It was a great pleasure to return to my alma mater and meet some of my former colleagues and students. During my doctorate at Liverpool, I was fortunate to offer four courses on Irish literature and culture for their Continuing Education programme. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences during my degree. It offered me the opportunity to gain vital experiences in curriculum design and teaching. More importantly, however, I enjoyed the discussions I had with the students on Irish writers, historical events and representations of Irish culture. It was a particular pleasure to encounter a variety of class members who joined the courses for different reasons: either because of a personal interest due their own Irish heritage; in an effort to socialise with others who share similar interests; in order to test the ground of learning in a Higher Education environment for possible future enrolment on degree programmes; or simply in pursuit of knowledge and exchange of ideas. It was precisely this diversity in motivation as well as an eagerness to engage with new and often challenging concepts among the participants that made these classes such a joyful and rewarding experience. As so often, the best ideas and thoughts are stimulated through debate.
When I was approached to write a brief history of Continuing Education at Liverpool, I jumped at the chance to delve into the rich archive of the Centre for Lifelong Learning. It was an exciting opportunity to find out more about the developments of adult education, how it evolved and adapted to the changing social, economic, and political contexts from the late nineteenth century to the present in the city of Liverpool. I was struck in particular how the programme and the vision for adult education was driven by the people dedicated to offer a diverse syllabus and broadening the programme to cater toward an ever-increasing demand.
The challenges faced in the past were similar to today, relating to issues of finances, administrative structures, teaching materials, appropriate teaching spaces, recruitment and wider changes in the academy. The history of adult education at Liverpool indicates that such challenges can be overcome. Three things struck me in particular. Firstly, I found that throughout the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries, CE was always at the forefront in responding to external changes. Secondly, since the 1960s, it engaged in developing a research-led vision for the Centre and its varying strands and duties by bringing in international scholars with a research interest in adult education, funding researchers based at Liverpool as well as sending out its staff to international conferences. Thirdly, it struck me how widening participation and community engagement was always a focus of adult education in Liverpool with collaborations between the Centre and local institutions, such as the Blue Coat, the Walker Art Gallery and the Philharmonic Hall. In this ambition, it seems to me that the Centre for Lifelong Learning is really at the heart of what one major concern within the academy: to reach out and transfer knowledge to the wider community.
The Centre’s archive holds a wealth of material, including student enrolment lists, syllabi, correspondence and annual reports with particularly rich materials for the period of World War Two. These highlight the fast-pacing socio-economic and political changes Liverpool and Merseyside and their impact on adult education. Thanks to the dedication of the people to face these challenges head-on, the Centre for Lifelong Learning is thriving today enabling me to be part of and contribute to CE’s adult education programme which offered a unique experience to me as an Early Career Researcher. I can only hope that the archive will attract an enthusiastic student to embark on a full study of the Centre for Lifelong Learning at Liverpool. As one of the few Centres left dedicated to adult and further education, its archive merits such a study and will shed light on the importance of adult education.