The history, cultural life and international focus of the city of Pécs show that it is a learning city. Drawing on its deep-rooted cultural and educational traditions, and in cooperation with its 650-year-old university, Pécs offers an innovative model for partnership-based lifelong learning through its Learning City-Region Forum, the network of organizations that coordinates learning cities activities, and its Learning Festival. As the proud recipient of a 2017 Learning City Award, Pécs is committed to improving the community and building a sustainable and green urban development policy that encourages growth, supported by ground-breaking learning processes.
Zsolt Páva, Mayor of the City of Pécs
Building a learning city
Pécs’s strategy for building a learning city is focused on sharing among communities. The city considers its multicultural character to be an asset, and an opportunity for communities to engage in cultural exchange. Its philosophy of ‘gaining and learning through sharing’ is reflected in its actions to promote learning and highlight the cultural specificity of each of the nine minority groups embedded in the city, thereby creating a truly unique culture.
The numerous learning programmes organized by Pécs through the Learning City-Region Forum network bring together thousands of participants every year. The variety of programmes on offer attracts learners from all backgrounds and every community. Festivals are held to celebrate minority cultures. Cultural programmes enable historical knowledge and art of all kinds to be shared, and increase public awareness of learning. Intergenerational activities designed to highlight environmental issues are organized in schools and neighbourhoods as a means of promoting better waste and resource management.
The city works with the University of Pécs to promote adult learning. Non-formal courses have enjoyed considerable success. Scientific programmes attract 15,000 participants each year, while a Senior Academy project gives more than 500 older learners a year the opportunity to improve their skills and knowledge.
With its broad range of learning activities and efficient administrative structures, the city of Pécs has succeeded in creating a shared culture of learning among its citizens.
Pécs is the fifth-largest city in Hungary, and the second most influential (after Budapest) when it comes to culture and art. The University of Pécs is one of the country’s largest, with more than 20,000 students.
The city is Hungary’s gateway to the Balkans, thanks to its proximity to the Croatian and Serbian borders. Its location, coupled with its rich and historical blend of different cultures, inspired the city’s nickname: the ‘Borderless City’. Indeed, no fewer than nine minorities are represented in the local government: German, Romani, Croatian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Polish, Greek, Ukrainian and Ruthenian. Pécs recognizes the importance of all these minorities through its cultural and educational provisions. It hosts a German school, theatre and cultural centre, while education is provided in the Romani language from kindergarten to university, with the aim of giving the Romani minority equal opportunities in terms of learning.
Following its nomination as a European Capital of Culture in 2010, the city implemented a detailed plan to turn Pécs into a learning city. The plan is built around three main ideas. First, education and lifelong learning are crucial to empowering citizens to face economic changes in the region in the wake of rapid growth in the healthcare sector. Consequently, the city’s aim is to mobilize its human capital as a means of sustaining development. Second, lifelong learning, in the form of community learning, is central to building a habitable, resource-efficient and green city. Finally, learning is a significant way of strengthening communities in the long term.
- Developing a plan
Pécs’s strategy for becoming a learning city emphasizes building local initiatives inspired by global best practices in order to develop the economy and increase the quality of life of its citizens. Pécs adopts a bottom-up strategy: in 2014, it created the Learning City-Region Forum, dedicated to fostering initiatives led by local residents and companies.
The city aims to unlock its citizens’ potential and highlight its many multicultural assets. Pécs wishes to continue strengthening links between its communities and intensifying knowledge transfer among its inhabitants. In this regard, community and informal learning are particularly important to the city. In addition, and in cooperation with schools and the university, Pécs has implemented a series of intergenerational exchanges focusing on the city’s heritage. Annual festivals are held to celebrate minority cultures, attracting more than 25,000 visitors in total. It is no exaggeration to say that encouraging mutual respect between cultures and religions is part of the city’s DNA.
Pécs’s strategy, anchored in its goal of developing into a healthier, greener and more resource-efficient city, builds on community learning initiatives across its neighbourhoods. It encompasses intergenerational workshops that encourage more efficient waste and resource management at the local level, and aims to challenge people’s perceptions of the responsibilities of citizens. In the long term, Pécs wants to become a hub for the healthcare and renewable energy industries and, therefore, promotes vocational training in these fields. In 1988, Pécs joined the World Health Organization’s Healthy Cities project to support the development of a healthy urban environment, with a view to promoting sustainable urban well-being.
- Creating a coordinated structure involving all stakeholders
Pécs’s commitment to building a learning city is integral to the city’s political agenda. Since 2005, Pécs has been a member of the PASCAL International Observatory, which promotes the balanced development of cities and regions with an emphasis on learning. The city is also a member of the PASCAL European Network of Lifelong Learning Regions (PENR3L) and EuroLOCAL, two European networks that aim to bring together regions that promote learning in order to encourage partnerships and foster the exchange of best practices among them.
Building on the experience and knowledge gained through these international partnerships, Pécs collaborated with the University of Pécs and 12 other organizations to establish a Learning City Consortium in 2010. Participating organizations included local businesses and institutions such as the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Regional Development Agency, the Pécs Regional Training Centre and Baranya County Council. The Learning City Consortium was charged with defining the concept of a learning city for Pécs and developing innovative learning activities adapted to the needs of its citizens.
Following the success of the consortium, the Learning City-Region Forum was created. It brings together civil society organizations, NGOs and private institutions, offering them a space in which they can exchange and cooperate on learning initiatives in Pécs. The Learning City-Region Forum is in charge of organizing learning activities, coordinating the actions of its members and promoting them across a range of media.
- Mobilizing and utilizing resources
Pécs is mobilizing both financial and non-financial resources to build a learning city. The city is using its own funds to finance the management of learning city projects, as well as the organization and coordination of related events. The Learning City-Region Forum’s projects are co-financed by the University of Pécs. To boost their impact, both the city and the university are applying for funds from the European Union and a number of international organizations. Steps are being taken to supplement public grants by encouraging the co-financing of projects at the local level by private foundations, companies, industries, civil society organizations and NGOs.
The city is working to generate publicity for the learning city project through local and social media. It is also striving to ensure its social legitimation by supporting bottom-up initiatives, community-based programmes, and social and cultural events dedicated to lifelong learning, all of which take place in formal, non-formal and informal settings at the heart of the local community. The ‘Learning City' label is applied to all related projects in order to underscore its role as an umbrella term and anchor that term in public discourse.
- Making learning accessible to all
The city collaborates with the university to provide courses all year round to stimulate a culture of learning. They centre on activities designed to reach citizens of all ages and create a thriving learning environment. With the exception of a few specific programmes, learning activities organized by the city are free of charge to ensure that all inhabitants can participate.
Three types of course are on offer: educational, cultural and environmental. Educational programmes are mainly organized by the university. Non-formal scientific programmes are open to all and cater for 15,000 participants every year. The Senior Academy gives more than 500 senior citizens each year the opportunity to study a variety of subjects. The House of Civil Communities, home to 50 NGOs and art groups, has its own learning schemes that attract 30,000 participants each year. In addition to its educational and cultural events, the city organizes a number of programmes to promote environmental education. School initiatives ensure that 15,000 students, teachers and parents are learning more about the environment, while neighbourhood initiatives are increasing awareness of environmental concerns and sustainable living across the city’s local communities.
In addition, Pécs adapts its learning output according to the neighbourhood in question. In cooperation with local organizations such as the Knowledge Centre, the House of Civil Communities, the Janus Pannonius Museum and the Zsolnay Cultural Quarter, dedicated programmes are organized in the city’s least-privileged districts. These programmes take into account learner expectations to provide the less well-off with a range of tailored cultural and learning opportunities.
To ensure that every inhabitant is aware of the wide range of cultural and educational programmes on offer, the city actively promotes them through various channels. Social media are used to disseminate information and to reach a broad and diverse audience.
- Organizing celebratory events
Pécs hosts a number of festivals celebrating culture and learning. The 2015 Europa Cantat singing festival stimulated intercultural exchange. Members of local choirs were invited to sing alongside guest choirs, bringing together 540 local singers and 10,000 active participants to share their music.
A number of events specifically highlight the rich cultural heritage of local minorities, each of which has its own special festival. This not only strengthens minority groups but also enables them to learn from each other’s culture. Minority group festivals allow people to discuss what it is that makes individuals special – their cultural background – while also emphasising the commonalities they share with society as a whole. Every year, more than 25,000 people attend these festivals to learn from one another and exchange experiences.
In addition, Pécs is working with key partners to organize an annual Learning Festival, the first of which is to be held in September 2017. The festival will encourage participants to share their learning experiences and best practices. The festival’s programmes are coordinated by one of Pécs’s partners, the House of Civil Communities, and will offer an opportunity to celebrate lifelong learning for all.
- Monitoring and evaluation
The Learning City-Region Forum, the network of organizations created by the city of Pécs in collaboration with the University of Pécs to coordinate the learning city programmes, has approved the development of appropriate tools to measure Pécs’s progress in building a learning city. National and international experts from the University of Cork, the PASCAL Observatory and the Hungarian National Commission for UNESCO have been invited to contribute. The evaluation mechanism, based on UNESCO’s Key Features of Learning Cities guidelines, aims to assess both the impact of lifelong learning initiatives on civil participation rates and the ways in which learning activities benefit inhabitants.
The city is also constantly gathering feedback by communicating with associations and communities to collect ideas from local inhabitants. To step up this ongoing exchange, Pécs has worked on innovative ways of gathering citizens’ feedback ahead of the Learning Festival scheduled to take place in September 2017. The city is implementing dedicated social media platforms and a website that will invite inhabitants to give their opinions on the current state of learning activities in their city. Through these platforms, inhabitants will also be able to raise issues that affect them with regard to current or future learning opportunities. To ensure that citizens complete the Learning Festival evaluation, Pécs has already called on its inhabitants to participate actively in this project.
- Achievements and the way forward
Pécs is a uniquely multicultural city, and this is key to the city’s plan to foster a common identity through learning while promoting the diversity of its community. Cultural and music festivals have played a significant role in highlighting the richness of each minority culture and building a common foundation for all. During these festivals, individuals share their specific knowledge with one another, with the aim of working together to create a multi-faceted yet harmonious society. Free city tours have also served to promote a common history and culture.
In Pécs, building a community that shares its cultural heritage with others is key to unlocking the full potential of its citizens. The city has encouraged dialogue within communities by organizing learning activities that facilitate mutual understanding. This deeper awareness of cultural diversity represents the starting point for increased solidarity between communities.
Building a learning city in Pécs provides the basis for sustainable and sensitive urban development. Pécs has already hosted workshops designed to encourage children and families to learn more about the environment and to increase citizens’ awareness of green issues. These workshops were supported by neighbourhood programmes promoting effective waste management practices. By harnessing non-formal learning to increase public awareness on an ongoing basis, Pécs has been promoting sustainable living, and has plans to develop into a fully sustainable city.
Foreign Relations Officer, City of Pécs