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The Students’ Union has been left reeling from the latest departmental changes proposed by the University with the closure of the School of Lifelong Learning and Widening Participation (SLLWP) as an academic institution.
The department was established to support the local community and to widen participation in higher education for young people and adults of all ages. It played a key role in the PASSPORT to higher education scheme, providing a link between college and university life in the local area.
On 24 February, Senate accepted proposals to end the academic lifespan of the school, closing one section of the department, the Centre for Training and Development (CETAD). The Department of Continuing Education (DCE) was moved to the Division of Marketing and External Linkages, a subsection of Central Services, effectively ensuring that the department would no longer play a role at the university as an academic institution but rather as a subsection of university management.
This particular development is a direct contrast with the words of the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Wellings. Speaking at the opening of the SLLWP, he said: “The new School of Lifelong Learning and Widening Participation should be seen as a portal for ideas and activities which will enable the University to reach out into the community and offer more flexible learning opportunities. The University has high expectations of where this venture will lead.”
The move has been viewed by many as a betrayal of the original principles behind the establishment of the school and was opposed by the Students’ Union in Senate.
“The laying down of the School for Lifelong Learning and Widening Participation and the Department of Continuing Education is lamentable. What’s more, in spite of economic and political changes over recent years it seems an absolute about-face for the University,” said LUSU President Michael Payne. “Whatever the future for widening participation work in the University – the message sent out by this move is not a praiseworthy one.”
He continued to question the quality of consultation given to the students at Lancaster, adding: “There hasn’t been a great deal of consultation but the Students’ Union has nevertheless been very vocal, pro-active and supportive of the activities of DCE and SLLWP ever since the cut back of DCE activities over a year ago. That is something students can and should be proud of.”
The Students’ Union has stressed its continuing support for the department and its staff throughout its existence.
The move has also prompted some questions over the university’s handling of the SLLWP, especially with regards to the movement of CETAD to the School of Health and Medicine from August 2009 which rendered many sections of the SLLWP ineffective as an individual academic institute.
LUSU Vice-President (Academic Affairs) Danny Ovens said of the move “I think CETAD moving to the School of Health and Medicine sealed the deal. I think it is important to note that the ‘decline’ is just in the departments connected to the school disappearing, not the importance of its activity.”
He continued “I think it is essential that this ‘move’ to MEL [Marketing and External Linkages] doesn’t hinder the activities of the PASSPORT scheme as it does some brilliant work on widening participation and shouldn’t be lost in some broom closet in University House.”
The PASSPORT scheme will be continued by the university where it is hoped its move to central services will ensure it remains a large component of the University’s interaction with the local community.