Student and alumni engagement is critical for creating a sense of community, both on campus and in other spheres - like online platforms, for instance. It is also important for university promotion; as well as academic acumen, prospective students are looking to “buy in” to an institution's culture and ethos. So what can universities do to embed a meaningful culture - one that makes students and staff feel connected to the institution long term?
Photo by Mikael Kristenson.
“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”
- Albert Einstein
Lifelong learning has never been so important: with technology advancing as rapidly as it is, we need to ensure that we possess the skills we need to use it to properly and responsibly. Lifelong learning fuels creativity and innovation, and as well as having economic benefits, it helps keep individuals cognitively engaged and active too.
Let’s take a look at how “flexibility” might hold the key to building a culture of lifelong learning, and how one university is doing it.
Creating flexible learning opportunities
If institutions and indeed nations are to compete on a global scale, they need to meet the changing needs of today’s students and employees. This means offering students choice over where, when and how they study so that they can fit their learning around other commitments.
Similarly, enabling staff to deliver course content in a more flexible way could have a positive impact on wellbeing and improve employee retention rates.
“The Economic Case for Flexible Learning”
Back in December of 2017, Universities UK set out to examine how the country’s productivity levels could be optimised through more opportunities for flexible learning in higher education.
It discovered that many businesses are reporting a skills shortage, and when they attempt to upskill existing staff they are faced with a number of challenges, particularly in terms of course length (and lack of flexibility) and cost.
Despite the fact that many universities are working hard to develop more flexible programmes they too face challenges - namely the regulatory environment doesn’t support flexible learners and investment is needed to update their IT systems and upskill their own staff to be able to facilitate new approaches.
“The uncertainty of future demand for flexible courses makes it difficult for institutions to commit to larger-scale delivery of more flexible courses. Changes to the funding system (for example, towards a modular-based system) could help in the longer-term but in the shorter term could lead to increased complexity and uncertainty for students and institutions.” - The Economic Case for Flexible Learning
So what impact is this having on lifelong learning for individuals?
The study found that this lack of flexible options results in a significant number of lost learning opportunities to the career development of learners who need to be able to study while juggling other commitments. These “lost learners” are likely to be aged between 25-44, be in full-time work and hold a level 2 or 3 qualification.
“When asked what changes would encourage them to study in the future, reduced tuition fees, improved course and employer flexibility and more funding for living costs were of greatest importance to those wishing to change or develop their careers.”
One thing’s for certain: lifelong learning is high on the higher education sector’s agenda.
Best practices for building a lifelong learning culture
In an article about how universities can rise to the lifelong learning challenge, Professor Karen Stanton, Vice-Chancellor at York St John University, outlines what her institution is doing to instill a culture that promotes lifelong learning.
According to Stanton, universities should ask themselves the following questions: “Are we open and accessible enough? Are we giving back to our communities? Are we reaching out to connect with those who haven’t considered us before?”
York St John University, University of York and Askham Bryan have been collaborating since 1998 to run Green Apples, an ongoing initiative that aims to raise academic aspirations among the city’s primary and secondary school children. Evaluation insights show that the project has prompted a higher number of young people to feel more positive about carrying on with their education.
Run in conjunction with the NHS, converge enables mental health service users from the local community to partake in free university courses in arts, sport and business run by students. Well over 1000 people have benefitted to date and some become tutors themselves.
Students and renowned theatre companies join forces to help female prisoners to build confidence prior to their release through the power of drama.
As York St John University’s examples show, so much can be done to inspire lifelong learning within institutions and in the context of the wider community. By building links with local groups, universities have the potential to widen their reach and engage an even more diverse range of learners.
What is your university doing to inspire #lifelonglearning? Share your insights on Twitter @fullfabric.
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