Heribert Hinzen

We are at present witnessing two significant changes in universities: firstly, they are increasingly seeing themselves as places of lifelong learning, engaging in academic continuing education and providing new courses for adults. And secondly, the universities are undergoing a process of internationalisation, manifested in expanded cooperation with neighbouring countries and worldwide. – Prof. (H) Dr Heribert Hinzen is deeply involved in comparative research and cooperation. His doctorate was on adult education and development in Tanzania, and he has headed the IIZ/DVV Project Offices in Sierra Leone and Hungary, from where he returned to Bonn to become Director of the Institute. He is concerned to see improvements in the practice of adult education and, in equal measure, its development as an academic discipline. In 2000 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Pécs; this is the speech of thanks which he made in reply.

Comparative and Cooperative Aspects of International Adult Education. Some Thoughts on the Occasion of Receiving an Award from the University of Pécs


To award the great honour of an honorary doctorate to an adult educator working in international cooperation is a decision that in many respects still reflects academic courage, responsibility and far-sightedness on the part of the institution concerned. I should like to express my sincere thanks to the University Senate for taking this step, and to assure them that I see the award as an injunction to continue to devote my whole energy to theory and practice in this field of work.

I should like to stress at the outset that I regard this personal recognition as a no less important recognition and acknowledgement of the field of international cooperation in adult education, and of the people and institutions working in it. The need for international adult education is expanding; numerous Hungarian specialists are actively engaged in it, together with colleagues in Europe and throughout the world, their goal being to improve the lifelong learning of adults in the age of globalisation. I should therefore like to express my thanks to the German Adult Education Association and its Institute for International Cooperation in Bonn, where I have been in management posts for over twenty years, and to the Institute for Adult Education and Human Resource Development in Pécs, which was of particular importance during the years I spent in Hungary, and will remain so in future. I should also like to thank my family, for without their constant willingness to give full support to my international activities, even when living abroad, the last few decades would have proved very different.

Courage, Responsibility and Far-sightedness

Why do I say that this University has demonstrated courage, responsibility and far-sightedness? Let me give some of the reasons. Adult educators will be very aware that the Senate has awarded an academic honour to something which still suffers in many places from not being accepted as an academic discipline, and it is still unclear whether this relatively young specialism is a sub-discipline of education, or is to be seen as an independent field, established in its own right. The titles given to the various departments and institutes are evidence of this confusion: in one place it is adult education, in another andragogy, and the Pécs version is called FEEFI (the Institute of Adult Education and Human Resource Development). The range and variety obscured by this issue of terminology becomes yet clearer if we look at it on a practical level, for the Hungarian expressions for the general and vocational, political and cultural versions of adult education are very familiar to many of the teachers and students assembled here: felnötoktatás, továbképzes, népfoiskola, közmüvelödés, felnötnevelés, tudományos ismeretterjesztö and élethosszig tartó tanulás (in order: adult teaching, continuing education, adult education centre, cultural education, adult education, propagation of knowledge, and lifelong learning).

The extraordinary and, for many, surprising situation is that we are experiencing and can provide empirical evidence of a huge and dynamic expansion in the supply of and demand for adult education, and more generally, for learning in adulthood, both in Hungary and throughout the world. The statistical surveys by UNESCO and the OECD on participation in organized forms of learning show that between 30 and 40% of adults take part every year; in some countries, more and in others, fewer. These figures give the lie to the easy assumption that the largest numbers of learners will be found where economic and technological development lags behind or where there is a shortfall in education needing to be compensated. Instead, the numbers of participants are highest where development has gone furthest. Our own surveys, carried out with the help of students at FEEFI and other universities and colleges of higher education, who have been drawing up atlases of continuing education, indicate that Hungary has succeeded in making huge strides in a relatively short time towards reaching the levels of other European countries in terms of sponsoring institutions, participating adults and educational provision.

Lifelong Learning and Universities

The trend towards ever more and ever better adult education as a part of lifelong learning can be expected to go on growing, under the pressure of the continually changing requirements of the information and knowledge society. The so-called half-life of knowledge is becoming shorter, the quantity of information is increasing, people are living longer, and adults need more than ever to learn throughout life, including during retirement. It is becoming an obligation: for many adults, it stopped being voluntary a long time ago, not only for those who have to retrain after losing their jobs

What do these trends mean, given that lifelong learning or learning throughout life seems to be gaining ground as the overall concept of education? If we are sentenced to life education, should schools and universities not also be asking themselves what they have to do differently in order to give people the skills and motivation to go on learning throughout life? This is crucial for all of us because adult education covers by far the longest stage in people’s lives. Learning to learn long ago became a crucial key skill. And if learning is no longer voluntary, the joy to be had from it must also be given far greater attention.

Some of you will rightly think that the current emphasis on lifelong learning can claim to be a novel development. However, there are many indications that it was already a common experience for many people, as can be seen in a number of similar sayings. In Hungarian it is said that the good priest learns his whole life long, and in German, that if you rest, you rust. In Sierra Leone, West Africa, the Mende say that learning starts in the womb and ends in the tomb.

Academic Discipline, Theory and Education Policy

We have to admit, in criticism of ourselves, that there is a lack of theory in adult education. This is the result of many factors, only some of which can be explained by the change of system and new social orientations. The most important consideration is that systematic research in adult education is frequently treated as a Cinderella subject. It is not yet a regular element of our work or seen as important for the development of theory and practice. From my long experience of international cooperation in many countries I should like to stress that I am not criticizing Hungary for being an exception in this regard, but that this is unfortunately the predominant situation in many places.

If we turn to a different area, we quickly realize that adult education also plays a regrettably small part in education policy. If we are rightly looking for equal emphasis on adult education as a fourth pillar of the education system, alongside schools, vocational training and higher education, we find that it is this very sector which is neglected within the area of public responsibility. A somewhat different image would often be more appropriate, that of a fifth wheel on a car, serving only as a spare! Adult education tends to be regarded as compensatory rather than complementary. This view is reflected in inadequate legislation and, in many countries, even in the absence of state funding.

It is no exaggeration to say that the representatives of the adult education profession continually face a potential crisis of legitimacy in respect of its development as an academic discipline, its research-based construction of theory, and the necessary decisions in education policy and legislation. You will easily recognise that we must join together in seeking viable solutions as quickly as possible, particularly in the interest of those engaged in adult education, and hence of large sections of our society.

Cross-border and Intercultural Activities – Global and Local

Let us now turn to another aspect which plays a prominent part in the citation. Yes, I do see myself as an adult educator with an international orientation, not because I undervalue its local dimensions, but because I try to envisage adult education as crossing borders, as a contribution to understanding and solidarity between peoples, against a background of increasing globalisation. The growing number of cross-border partnerships and transnational networks is evidence of this process. Thinking globally and acting locally can, in my view, also work the other way around, and the artificial word “glocal” is intended to suggest in this context that both perspectives are equally important and must go hand in hand. It should be no surprise that global learning is the latest term which is education’s answer to the trend towards globalisation. It conveys above all a perception of a networked whole, of issues of sustainability and future viability, and of learning in and about worldwide interdependency.

In my subsequent remarks about international cooperation in adult education, I shall refer to the wide range of possible ways of making contact and passing on information, to exchanges of expertise and staff, and to the long-standing formal partnerships which are often an offshoot of town twinning. Increasingly, cooperation is tied to particular projects, which are carried out across borders or transnationally between two or more partners.

If this cooperation is to be tailored to the partners, and to be of a high professional standard, we need to know one another better, and to know more about one another: not just about terminology, but about the historical context and joint future prospects. What do French adult educators know about “közmüvelödes” in Hungary, and in return, what does “animation rurale” really mean? And how can it be made plain that political education in Germany is important and means more than party-political influence. How can we organize partnerships in terms of actual collaboration without knowing, understanding and perhaps having a high regard for the aims, contents and methods of the adult education in question? Comparative research into the commonalities, differences and similarities in the relevant education systems, into their institutional forms, dominant methods and current problems, should be given particular attention. It can lay the foundations for joint activities, or in the form of concurrent research, combined with some form of formative evaluation, can help to improve projects that are already running.

A Digression: Historical and Comparative Analysis

Allow me to make a short digression about comparative research into the history of adult education. What I want to do is to show that the spread of ideas across borders has as long a tradition in adult education as in other fields. There have always been people with stirring ideas that have not stopped at borders: Jan Amos Comenius or Komensky, born in 1592 in Nivnice, then in Bohemia, today in the Czech Republic, who spent some time studying in Heidelberg and taught in Sweden, wrote early textbooks about education for the people which achieved wide circulation, so wide in fact that the Rákóczi family came to hear of them and invited him to Sarospatak to take part in discussions on educational reform in Hungary; Comenius later died in exile in Amsterdam. Or we could mention Frederik Severin Grundtvig, who lived from 1783 to 1872 and never directed an adult education centre himself, but whose ideas led subsequently to the founding of very many such centres in Denmark and elsewhere. He is regarded as one of the mainsprings of ideas for the development of adult education centres in many European countries including, probably indirectly, the first adult education centre in Bajászentivan, Hungary, in 1914. His ideas about education for the people are of such obvious importance that a Czech colleague who emigrated to Canada is now working on a comparative study. But we need not look only to the past to find people whose ideas about education have crossed borders: through his socially oriented Educación Popular aiming at individual liberation, and his suggestions on adult literacy, the Brazilian Paulo Freire had a seminal influence over the last thirty years on the debate about concepts and on practical initiatives.

Or we might look generally at the thinking of the Enlightenment, the prime movers of which sought to enlighten the people. As a movement it carried out adult education per se, and brought about institutional developments such as reading rooms and public libraries, journals and educational associations. And the journeymen who exported their vocational craft skills through their travels, and enriched their experiences through new insights gained in other places, became importers of new ideas when they returned home. The establishment of workers’ education in the century before last – as we must now say – would have been inconceivable, but for its social roots, which lay in early industrialization, and from the outset it developed across borders. In February and March 1848, revolutionary ideas spread throughout Europe almost simultaneously. Essentially, these were the beginnings of the civil society, learning and education coming together in new institutions and associations, and in tradesmen’s and workers’ associations, which had always exercised educational functions. These associations can thus be counted among the founding fathers and mothers of our profession – like the university extension movement and societies for the propagation or popularisation of the sciences.

Should we be asked to go more deeply into comparative history, a look at the story of this University would no doubt be illuminating. Its foundation in 1367 goes back to a papal document, and the Italian Professor Galvano di Bologna added to the breadth of the teaching body in early years. A lively history followed, with interruptions and upheavals, and with local links being made with Györ and Pozsony, and with Bratislava. It should perhaps be borne in mind that Baranya and the neighbouring regions ins•de and outside Hungary are and were something of an ethnic and cultural melting pot, as is evident from the historical nickname of Swabian Turkey.

The European Union: Socrates and Leonardo

In the future-oriented aims and cooperative goals of all educational programmes in the European Union we see again what I have just alluded to from a historical and comparative point of view. Learning from one another, and interethnic and intercultural learning have become part of the programme. The Maastricht Agreement signed in 1992 gave the EU greater responsibilities in the field of education. All EU education programmes must as a matter of principle involve several institutions in different countries, and their activities must promote European convergence and European citizenship. The countries seeking membership are involved early on in the programmes in order to make it easier for all concerned to join and work together later on. Hungary thus has its own Leonardo and Socrates programme offices, providing support for initiatives in the fields of general and vocational education and continuing education.

The public information and advocacy work of the European adult education organizations is now much in evidence: while the first drafts of Socrates written in 1993 did not even make reference to adult education, the Socrates II programme approved in 1999 contains a separate line for adult education, named after Grundtvig. In 1996, the Year of Learning throughout Life was proclaimed throughout Europe. Numerous local, national and cross-border projects took place with EU support. An examination of the EU Agenda 2000, especially of the chapter on employment, reveals that lifelong learning plays a prominent part in European cooperation, and vice versa. The earlier allusion to the fact that lifelong learning is no longer voluntary applies equally to international cooperation.

It is not my intention in these remarks to give the impression that political decisions have enabled the European Economic Community to turn, through a process of European integration, into a fully developed European educational and cultural alliance. We all know that we are still a long way from that. But we must make every effort to achieve a European unity in which variety remains a component part.

We now face the important task of providing academic support and evaluation for these international activities with the same degree of earnestness that we apply to their preparation and implementation. We need to investigate their specific advantages and drawbacks for cooperation from a comparative point of view. Quite simply, we need to know more clearly what is the exact added value for society and individuals of the various approaches to cooperation. What can and must we learn from them for the immediate future, which means indeed for the present, given the accelerated pace of present-day living? These questions concern every one of us. We must also find common overall answers for ourselves, and discover what learning experiences we can share through inservice training, research and publications.

Internationalisation at the University of Pécs

Let us ask ourselves in all seriousness whether this University is already doing what it should towards these developments. On two levels, it certainly is: in the resolute Yes to European and international cooperation which can be seen in the establishment of relevant working units; and in the unreserved Yes to the significance of adult education as a part of lifelong learning. FEEFI, for example, cooperates with adult education centres and universities in Mannheim, Munich and Leipzig in Germany, with Graz and Vienna in Austria, with Cluij or Kolosvar in Romania, and with Surrey in England, and maintains numerous additional contacts with Israel and China. It could also be said that FEEFI pursues globalisation in that it seeks common forms of dialogue and inservice training. In the year 2000 alone, the University of Pécs will host two major international adult education conferences: a symposium on university cooperation in adult education in Central and Eastern Europe, prepared jointly with organizations in Slovenia and Austria, and a conference on historical research with a world remit, which is this time concerned with the theme of ethics, ideals and ideologies in the history of adult education.

A word should be said here about an interesting parallel development. The Institutes for Adult Education at the Universities of Leipzig and Pécs have been exchanging students and teaching staff for some years, ideas such as surveying the situation of adult education institutions by means of atlases of continuing education have been tried out by both parties, and a start made on drafting comparable versions of these, literature on adult education methods has been translated, published and used in seminars, and the two institutions have introduced certification that accords with ISO 9000 standards. There are plenty of fields of cooperation waiting for concurrent comparative research!

New Media and Festivals of Learning

Allow me two final observations. The new media, often mentioned in connection with forms of self-directed or self-organized learning, will increase in importance. Ways will need to be found of integrating aspects of computer-based learning with the social elements of institutionalised learning. At the same time it should be obvious to us that the Internet has widened the scale and scope of information dissemination, and will be used increasingly in adult education in interactive forms. The organization, manufacture and distribution of learning software which will circle the globe is surely only just beginning. There is no need to call for international cooperation and global networking in order to put this process into practice, as these will occur automatically. The question that arises is rather its effects on education and society, the investigation of which may provide major tasks for comparative research, alongside the many enquiries that focus primarily on technical issues.

Major UNESCO international conferences on adult education take place every 12 years, the most recent having been in 1997. At this, the government representatives who took part, including Hungarian and German delegations, approved a Declaration and an Agenda for the Future containing two particularly important demands: firstly, that it should be possible for every adult to spend an hour a day learning, which would add up to 30 days’ education a year; and secondly, that an Adult Learners Week be held concurrently in all states of the United Nations to provide motivation and to celebrate the importance of learning. Here too, comparative and cooperative aspects may be of relevance: why should some of these activities and festivals of learning in border areas not also take on a regional character, or some of the events not be approached from a transnational or even a world perspective? There is certainly much to be learnt from one another, not least by actually doing things together.

Hopes and Thanks

I hope that you can now better understand why I suggested that the Senate showed courage, responsibility and far-sightedness. By making this award to me on the Hungarian National Day, you have placed international cooperation in adult education at the centre of the academic ceremony. You have thereby given it the meaning and value which it is denied in many countries but which it needs in order to develop fully. It will be my pleasure and privilege to go on working towards that development with colleagues throughout the world. I thank you for your invaluable support.