Adult education is like a persistent plant. You think you’ve quashed it, but it bounces back in new forms, says Professor Alan Tuckett after the British voted for leave in a so-called Brexit referendum.

UK adult education needs courses on Brexit

Adult education can support Britain in preparing for leaving the European Union even though it failed to stop the “Leave” vote winning, leading British adult educator Alan Tuckett says.


Professor Alan Tuckett, who was Chief Executive of England’s National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) for 23 years, warns that the ramifications of so-called Brexit might not be felt for a few years, but says that adult learning would evolve to meet the challenges.

– I wasn’t expecting this result and I don’t think the adult learning sector were prepared for it either, he says.

A loss of 1.5 billion £

Despite the shock felt after the result in July, the response from the UK sector has been slight.  The Learning and Work Institute (the successor to NIACE) warned that it was important that EU funded work, which it said totals around £1.5billion across the whole of the United Kingdom, continued to receive government support if European funding cannot continue to be obtained.

However, in a blog following the referendum, Chief Executive Stephen Evans stopped short of criticising the result or responding to criticism that adult education was in part to blame, focusing instead on how the adult learning funding landscape, which has already reduced drastically over the last decade, could be made to work without support from the EU.

Professor Tuckett also plays down the role adult education played in the “Leave” result, but admits that the sector did little to inform the debate:

– Over the past 25 years, adult educators have become more and more focused on finance and administration and have, generally, shrunk away from political and social education.  This has meant that, compared to the 1975 referendum on entering the common market, adult education played a low profile.  This will have had some, but probably only a marginal, effect.

Still a leading partner?

His concerns for the sector lie in the medium term, where he feels the impact of Brexit on academic research and international cooperation, is yet to be felt.  EAEA President Per Paludan Hansen told a July conference that EAEA still see the UK as “a leading partner in adult education”. Nevertheless, Professor Tuckett feels that breaking ties with Europe will make the weakening of co-operative relationships in adult education ‘inevitable’.

Professor Alan Tuckett./ Photo: professor’s own archives.

Despite his concerns and the sector’s low profile before the result, Professor Tuckett remains upbeat, insisting that the sector has a role in the debate going forward:

– Adult education is like a persistent plant. You think you’ve quashed it, but it bounces back in new forms, he enthuses.

A sense of adventure

Professor Tuckett thinks that, as Britain prepares for the legal process that will see Britain formally start leaving the EU next March, providers could be helping inform the debate on how that break-up will unfold:

– There are many questions in people’s minds about what the single market, customs union and freedom of movement really are. Providers could be offering public briefings on what these mean and exploring why many of the European Institutions attract so much unpopularity across Europe.  They could be offering courses around Europe after Brexit”.

Many political commentators in the UK media have seized upon the idea that Brexit offers, for all its barriers, new opportunities and Professor Tuckett certainly sees that for adult education.

“Without scolding anyone we need to recover that sense of adventure and collective imagination,” he concludes.

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