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The Free University of Nottingham: It Would Be F.U.N. by Mike Scott

Education is in a mess. At one end, the Government is intent on bringing back rote learning for Infants while at the other, potential university students face a lifetime of debt and Adult Education has all but disappeared. The idea of lifelong learning for the pleasure and the knowledge rather than the qualification is a distant memory.

There are of course some organisations that were set up to cater for those without access to formal education: the most common of these being the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) and the University of the Third Age (U3A), but neither of these are in a position to fill the current “education gap”. The WEA has suffered massive funding cuts and now concentrates almost exclusively on qualification-based and Return to Work courses and U3A is restricted by recruiting only from retired or semi-retired over 50’s. And both are often too expensive for someone out of work or on a low income.

Nottingham Map

Faced with this bleak scenario, people in various parts of the country have independently come up with an idea that caters for everyone and is as close to free as possible: the Free University.

There is no national control and no single template: each one does it’s own thing, as decided democratically by local supporters. A quick check on Google shows a wide range of courses, which are run by those involved for those involved, based on a combination of what people want and what they can offer. There is normally no charge for courses and they are held in whatever free accommodation can be negotiated, from community centres to pubs to meeting rooms in libraries.

Here in Nottingham, the Universities have largely abandoned their responsibilities to local people in their drive for profit, there has been a massive reduction in non-qualification courses at Further Education colleges and anyone interested in discussing current affairs, developing their computer skills or just trying interests out to see what they would like to follow up is reduced to trawling the Internet – if they’re computer-literate and have access.

City libraries now charge £1 an hour for use of the few computers available and of course, about half the country doesn’t have either access or the relevant skills. There is a widespread tendency to assume that everyone is online, but this is very far from the case and the little cash previously available for training has disappeared. Computer access is in fact strongly class-based which, considering the cost of computers and training, is hardly surprising.

There can be no doubt there are a very large number of people locally who would be interested in getting involved in education if it was free, inclusive, unpressurised, within easy reach and held at times that fitted in with other responsibilities. They include unemployed/under-employed graduates, retired people and those failed by the school system, who are nonetheless intelligent and interested in learning and also single parents, providing child-care arrangements could be made.

This is an attempt to see if there are people out there who would be interested in trying to set up a Free University of Nottingham, or at least coming together to discuss how it might be done. Following an initial meeting, a Steering Group would take over, contacting people elsewhere who have done it already and working out how best to launch the idea. The links below have a bit more info, discussion and background:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2013/jan/28/free-university-movement-excluded-learners

http://www.freeuniversitybrighton.org

 

So, if this sounds at all interesting,
I’m unable to take the idea forward in Nottingham at the moment, but am happy to discuss it with anyone interested email me and I’ll get back to you to report on progress (if any!). If it works, it’ll be FUN!

Mike Scott ([email protected])

Introducing the Free University Network (F.U.N) by Joel Lazarus

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