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Popular universities: An alternative vision for lifelong learning in Europe

  • Authors: Nelly P. Stromquist (University of Maryland, College Park), Romina B. da Costa (Silver Spring)

Volume 63, Issue 5, pp 725–744

Abstract

At its inception in 1993, the European Union (EU) did not consider education one of the pillars of its regional cohesiveness and identity. As time went by, recognition of the potential role of education at individual and social levels increased. This concern for education, however, is much more centred on the acquisition of knowledge and skills towards developing a competitive labour force than towards facilitating the integration of all citizens in the European community – a bias which is reflected in EU policies and recommendations. At local levels, communities need to offer educational opportunities to all members of society, irrespective of their social, cultural and linguistic background and their level of education. In many EU member countries, this kind of learning is offered by popular universities (PUs), which are not state-funded and run in close collaboration with their respective local communities. The authors of this paper carried out a qualitative survey, collecting data on PUs in Spain and France. Their purpose was to examine how European PU offerings align with community needs, and to what extent they address emerging issues such as immigration, the refugee crisis, an aging population and youth unemployment. In the evaluation of their comparative survey, the authors link the grassroots approaches of PUs in Spain and France to the broader European Union (EU) discourse on lifelong learning (LLL) as seen in policy documents such as the European Commission’s Memorandum on Lifelong Learning. Finally, they examine the ways in which PUs’ approach to LLL works to contest the dominant consensus on the meaning and scope of lifelong learning, offering an alternative way forward.

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