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Never Stop Learning

By July 31, 2019 Features-Leeds

It’s never too late. JLife explores the fulfilling world of adult education.

Whether you are working on a new hobby or beginning a qualification for a change in career, the old adage ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ is being disproven by swathes of ambitious, active and inquisitive people who wish to learn new skills or fulfil a lifelong ambition of heading back to school.       As people live longer and work prospects increasingly benefit those who have gained a variety of experiences, institutions like The Open University, or closer to home, Swarthmore Education Centre in Leeds, provide a wide spectrum of opportunities to aid students in re-entering the learning environment on their own terms. Distance learning and part-time learning also helps to significantly address the imbalance of opportunities for those with disabilities or those with caregiving or family commitments.

JLife spoke to national and local adult education providers to find out why they think learning throughout our lives is beneficial and, most importantly, possible.

Professor Josie Fraser is the deputy vice-chancellor of The Open University, the UK’s largest academic institution and a world pioneer in distance learning. Josie joined The Open University (OU) in March 2017, but describes her interest in OU and its mission as ‘long term’ after being a tutor on an OU MSc course back in the early 2000s – an experience that influenced her teaching for many years.

Josie started her academic career as a neurobiologist with interests in animal behaviour and treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders. Her BSc degree (Leeds) and PhD (Bradford) were followed with research posts at the Medical Research Council, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Returning to the UK, she took up roles as senior lecturer and then associate dean (learning and teaching) at the University of Bradford. During this time Josie’s focus shifted towards teaching and making a difference to a wide range of students from varied backgrounds.

How did you first get involved with The Open University?

Many years ago when I was new to lecturing, I did some work for the OU as an Associate Lecturer, where I supported students remotely from across the UK, offering face-to-face tutorials and giving academic feedback and support. The experience had a huge impact on me and influenced my teaching for years at more conventional brick universities. I was delighted to return to the OU as executive dean of the faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and now as deputy vice-chancellor.

The OU is celebrating its 50th birthday this year, how has its mission endured over time?

The fact that the OU’s mission is still relevant, says a lot about how revolutionary it was in 1969. Back then we offered first class education to people who’d ‘missed out’, but as the needs of the workforce have altered with people living longer and having more than one career, there is a need to retrain, to re-educate, to upskill and change direction. For most the idea of studying when you have a family, job, and mortgage is inconceivable, but with flexible learning and a fantastic support network, the OU can make this a reality. Our mission is not only important to today’s world, it will continue to be important in the future.

The OU aims to redistribute the opportunities of education to people of all walks of life – why are these opportunities so vital?

Everyone would agree that education can be transformative, you only need to meet some of our OU students and alumni. We pride ourselves in being able to support part-time students in combining learning with earning and have helped over two million students receive an education, otherwise denied to them at campus-based universities. We also support 25,000 disabled students to study and have scholarships for carers and disabled veterans. Everyone should be able to access education that can change lives.

Which subject would you like to study yourself?

I’d really enjoy doing something technology focused. Tech is a hobby of mine – it fascinates me how it develops so quickly, with interesting jobs and changes in society coming out of computer technology. If I started all over again, much as I’ve loved my career as a scientist, working with computing and technology subjects would be great. Languages is another dream, as despite being half-German, the only language I speak is English!

Ann Marie Spry is the director of adult curriculum and vice-principal at Leeds City College. Here’s what she had to say about the virtues of learning in later life…

Adult education was established to enable adults to learn to read and write. From those beginnings it has a long history of providing second chance opportunities for adults to improve their skills, take vocational job-related courses, professional qualifications and learn for pleasure.

Adult education has never been more important, at a time when technology is rapidly advancing, job roles changing, people working and living longer. The ability to learn new skills and adapt is paramount.

Leeds City College has a rich heritage in the city of Leeds, delivering a full range of courses at all levels, from beginners to professional, helping people into work, get promotions, change careers, move into higher education, as well as learning for pleasure.

Learning a new skill not only enables people to gain new skills and qualifications, but has wider health and wellbeing benefits, as it helps overcome isolation, helps them make new friends and develops resilience – all vital for our wider mental and physical health.

Lifelong learning helps us change our situation and improve our life chances. I am so proud to be part of this amazing service and be an adult learner myself.

JLife’s pick of local adult education options…

Learning Provider Courses Offered
Leeds City College Four dedicated campuses offering academic and vocational training in applied science, business, beauty, digital, creative arts, engineering, languages, events, sport science, travel, management, food and drink and teacher training


Swarthmore Friendly, accessible education centre offering learning in history, dance, art, literature, science, languages, social sciences, film, media, economics, education, mathematics, music and theatre
Leeds College of Music Conservatoire offering higher education and accessible short course options in acting, business, photography and musical composition and production in jazz, folk, classical, popular and musical theatre
Leeds Arts University Specialist arts university offering studies in fine art, animation, creative writing, fashion design, creative advertising, fashion photography, filmmaking, graphic design, popular music performance and textiles
Leeds Beckett University Former polytechnic public university offering a range of courses including nursing, education, business, engineering, computer science, media, events management, tourism, law, marketing, nutrition, politics, journalism, social work, sports studies and community development
University of Leeds Russell Group red brick university offering a range of courses including languages, ethnicity studies, business, classics, environmental science, healthcare, linguistics, politics, liberal arts, zoology, learning and teaching, criminal justice and philosophy
Leeds Trinity University Former teacher training institution based in Horsforth specialising in humanities and social sciences, offering courses including children, young people and families, sociology and policing, primary education, psychology, and health
Yorkshire Wine School Independent wine education company providing informal short courses in wine and beer tasting and professional WSET and beer sommelier qualifications
Yorkshire Academy of Film and Television Acting Acting academy and talent agency offering industry training in screen acting, film and television production and screenwriting
Leeds College of Building Further education college dedicated to construction, offering adult part-time courses in carpentry and joinery, welding, plumbing, electrical installation, painting and decorating and plastering
Northern School of Contemporary Dance Adult dance classes are an enjoyable way to increase fitness, strength and flexibility. Each term runs for 10 weeks and classes are led by specialist teachers
Yorkshire College of Music and Drama Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced musician, the YCMD offers expert tuition in a friendly, relaxed environment