School uniforms and new pencil cases are in the shops and this is the time, every year since 1989, when I look forward to meeting my new students at Bangor University’s School of Lifelong Learning. But not this year. Lifelong Learning closed on 31st July. So although we’ll be teaching out all those who want to complete their qualifications via different parts of the university, there is now no dedicated centre, staff or courses for mature and part-time students at the university.
It’s such a loss. A loss to the community. A loss to the families of the students who might have been. And the greatest loss of all is to the individuals themselves who might have dared, heart in mouth, to step forward and enter higher education and have their lives transformed as a result.
And what a loss to me! The people I’ve encountered through teaching literature, women’s studies and creative writing have immeasurably enriched my life. And Lifelong Learning has enabled me to devise and deliver modules that would have been unlikely to fit into mainstream degree courses, such as the one on freewriting that I’ve mentioned more than once in this blog.
When I heard the news that Lifelong Learning was being axed due to financial cuts I turned to my notebook and began to freewrite. Out came a whole host of voices and stories from these past 28 years. Once edited, they became the prose poem below: a series of first-person statements based on the real students I’ve taught but each one a mixture, a composite, of many different people.
I hope that these voices celebrate and commemorate the great achievements (and heartaches) of the last three decades of the “extra mural” project at Bangor University and show in some measure what has been lost by allowing money to be the ultimate determinant of the value of education.
Cost Effective Lifelong Learning by Kathy Hopewell
I run a local charity. Before going back to study part time, my cancer diagnosis had stripped everything from me: marriage, work, hope, confidence. The course was a lifeline, literally.
I am a schoolteacher and my evening classes at the uni are the only times anyone asks me what I think.
I’m agoraphobic but once I’d registered, my desire to learn about psychology was greater than my fear of going outside. Now I’m thinking of going into social work.
At work, I was the one who stayed late to lock up and the one who cleared up spillages. After I got my degree, things changed. Now I do the orders, now I have a section under me. Now I have enough to put some money by.
I’m disabled and having the classes spread out was the only way I could have got through a whole degree.
I was an old-fashioned salesman with a briefcase and a business card. My degree was the best thing I could have done because when the company went under, I didn’t, and now I’m self-employed.
I never used to speak to anyone after my wife died. Now I get together with my classmates to talk about the assignments. I suggested they came to my house next time. The doctor’s taken me off the anti-depressants now.
I’ve worked in retail all my life. Getting to grips with social theory was the first time I’d used my brain in years. I reckon the two things together will really give me an edge: it’s like seeing the world with completely new eyes.
Before I came on the course I honestly didn’t know that I felt so strongly about social justice. Now I’m running a drop-in centre and it’s all paid for by an application that I put together.
I’m in recovery but in class, people see something more interesting in me than my addiction. In fact, I don’t even think about myself much anymore, instead I think about the next time I can get into the library and what I’ll say during the session next week.