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September 2015: 'Alternative' Learning

'Traditional' undergraduate and postgraduate education is most commonly experienced at Warwick, but over the years, many have benefited from less conventional arrangements, embarking on part-time, later-life, Open Studies or spare-time learning. Here, seven interviewees from the Voices of the University project share their stories.

Blackboard teaching session, late 70s 2+2 graduates

Moya Melville moved to Warwick in the 1980s and applied and was awarded a position of assistant in the part-time degree office in the Department of Continuing Education [now Centre for Lifelong Learning]. “It was great fun because the first cohorts of the part-time degree programme were just wonderful people, they were all older people, many of whom had been in the war – education disrupted – or women like me who had perhaps made the wrong decisions and wanted to resume a career or take up a career in mid-life, and this was a perfect opportunity at a well-thought-of university. And the university always made a great play of saying, we are part of our community and we want to make sure our local people benefit from the fantastic education available at Warwick. So, there were open studies programmes, part time degrees, and then 2+2 pathway degrees. Nowadays there’s things like Foundation Degrees too.”

Russell Moseley became Assistant Registrar in the Deputy Registrar’s Office for the Department of Continuing Education, with responsibility for various aspects of adult education. “I started in ‘88 in what was a very young, very small department which had been set up a couple of years before. It was unusual for what was still called a ‘new’ university to be given the funding to run those kind of liberal adult education courses, which were associated with older, established universities.”

Warwick was given the patch of Coventry, Warwickshire and Solihull, and had been designated as a responsible body, meaning it got direct funding from the Department of Education. “There was always the idea that this was an important university initiative”, says Russell. “Our registrar Mike Shattock thought that universities had a moral duty to contribute to the lives of their local communities. Mike was supportive of what we did, but he trusted us to get on and do it. Every university used to have an adult education operation, but you can count on one hand the number of comparable centres left. That capacity of Warwick to reinvent itself has been a remarkable recipe for success.”

Robert O’Toole studied an Open Studies course in Philosophy whilst studying for his A-levels in the late 1980s. “I had always been reading lots of books and watching the Open University on British television. The Centre for Lifelong Learning provides superb opportunities for people like me from totally non-traditional academic backgrounds, and I think that I was able to go to the Centre for free, or possibly a small fee and spend 10 weeks with an academic. Sebastien Odiari taught us a course on Critical Philosophy or the Frankfurt School, or something like that. And that was great! Totally transformative experience and a great way into the university.”

Janet Keene has worked in finance at Warwick for 25 years and her family has made use of the educational opportunities on campus. “I did an evening short course on ecology with the Centre for Lifelong Learning on one occasion, I enjoyed it, it was interesting. And I’ve always thought about doing Spanish or Italian, but I keep putting it off. My daughter actually came and learned Spanish here on Saturday mornings in the summer, because they used to do a children’s program during the day.”

With his wife Zofia’s encouragement, John Patchett began a 2+2 degree in Environmental Studies at Warwick, after working for 30 years in electrical engineering. “I didn’t have any qualifications, not even CSE English at school, but I had to write an essay on general aspects of the environment, my concerns and what I thought about it. And I got a 2:1! I was accepted provisionally onto the course. So the first part of the course was to try and get the other qualifications up to speed: biology, physics and chemistry up to A-level. That was the purpose of the first year at Solihull College. Then I went on to Warwick as a proper student. I’d got this interest in Biological Sciences and did Microbiology courses with the undergraduates.”

After a string of excellent marks throughout the course, John took his finals. “Time came to get the results, I went to the board to look and my name was at the top - John Patchett, First. I couldn’t believe it, I thought they’d made a mistake. I actually received the Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire prize for Most Outstanding Student.” John went on to complete a Biological Sciences PhD at Warwick, whilst lecturing in Environmental Management at Warwickshire College, and began research into early detection of bacteria and fungi in commercial food at Warwick’s Science Park.

Kay Rainsley began working in a clerical role at Warwick in 1982 and progressed to working at the Centre for Lifelong Learning. “I’d already decided when I joined Warwick that I wanted to study more and get a better job, and through the years I was able to do that. My husband and I decided that we needed to have more education - he was an apprentice when we got married at 16 - and since then we’ve both studied at Warwick, studied part-time degrees, and we owe a lot to Warwick, it’s very much a part of my life. The reason I wanted to work in the Centre for Lifelong Learning was that I wanted to help people to find education and to better their lives.”

Valda Reid worked at Warwick from the late 1960s in the Maths Institute, the Department of History, and eventually with historian Professor Fred Reid. After her retirement, she undertook a 2+2 degree in Social Sciences. “My daughter decided she was going off to university, and boy, was I jealous! So I contacted the 2+2 lot. Doing the degree was very interesting. I noticed that how the lecturers perceived you as a person, how you perceived yourself as a person, and how others saw you could change with a degree. The personal stories of some of the people on my degree programme, who had chosen to study later in life, were mind-blowing. The degree has given me a lot of confidence. When I could hear my daughter yelling as I came on stage to collect the degree, it meant a lot to me, because you want to be a role model, to show you can do things out of the ordinary.”

Listen to the IAS podcast here for more on teaching and learning at Warwick, and stay tuned for the next instalment.

If you'd like to listen to longer interviews from the Modern Records Centre, follow this link.