Terry Volbrecht / Shirley Walters

When we talk about higher education, we usually think of the traditional image of universities and old-fashioned lectures. But the demands placed on university education have changed. “Lifelong learning” is having an impact there too, calling for rethinking, different content and methods, and so on. Taking the University of Western Cape in South Africa as their model, the two authors examine the effect of lifelong education on universities. – Mr. Terry Volbrecht is a senior lecturer in the Division for Lifelong Learning at the University of Western Cape. He has been coordinator of the Academic Development Centre at UWC. He is currently managing the Recognition of Prior Learning Project within the Division. Professor Shirley Walters is the founding director of the Centre for Adult and Continuing Education and implementing head of a new Division for Lifelong Learning at UWC. A first draft of this article was published as a working paper for the Adult Education Research Group, Royal Danish School of Educational Studies, Denmark. International Conference: Knowledge, Power and Ethics, University of Linköping, August 1999

Re-imagining a Picture: Higher Education in Lifelong Learning


A particular picture of a university holds many of us captive. It is a picture of a lecturer speaking or reading to a class of young adults. Using “lifelong learning” as the framework for higher education and the university allows us to re-imagine that picture.

In using “lifelong learning” as the frame to observe higher education institutions, our gaze focuses both internally and externally. Internally we see a concern to ensure high quality, and flexible teaching and learning which highlights the needs of diverse individual learners and the multifaceted professional development of staff. Externally we notice an emphasis on helping to ensure access by a range of constituencies to socially and economically relevant education, training and research opportunities. This framework highlights, in new ways, what separate bodies of literature have called “university teaching”, “academic development”, “higher education studies”, “adult education”, “continuing education”, “human resource development”, and “organizational development”.

Drawing on a case study of the University of Western Cape in South Africa, where we are both employed in “adult and continuing education” and “academic development” respectively, we will explore in what ways implementing the idea of lifelong learning is contributing to the re-imagination of the university.


Higher education in South Africa is undergoing radical restructuring, and this has major implications for every aspect of university life. The universities in the country are in different stages of institutional renewal in order to align themselves with the new policies and other national and international imperatives. Some of these include reorganizing knowledge in disciplines into integrated programmes; increasing participation of students from a broader distribution of social groups and classes; and being more responsive to societal needs. As in many parts of the world, there is a call for massification and diversification without any assurance that resources will increase substantially This means that innovative approaches to learning and teaching are required.

In South Africa there are 21 universities with gross inequalities between historically black (HBUs) and historically white universities (HWUs) for a population of about 40 million people. In 1959 the apartheid regime introduced the Extension of Universities Act which created universities for particular ethnic groups. The majority of black universities are in the rural areas and the white institutions in urban areas. There have been vast discrepancies in financing, material resources, staffing, undergraduate teaching loads, quality of students, availability of courses, and so on, between HBUs and HWUs. The idea that HBUs would be mainly for the supply of civil servants for the apartheid bureaucracies, has led to HBUs having most of their degrees in public administration, education, religion and the humanities, and far fewer in the natural sciences, engineering and related disciplines. Also post-graduate programmes, research and publication remain poorly developed in most of these institutions.

One contributing factor to the unequal standing of HBUs and HWUs is that universities have largely geared themselves to school leavers. For HBUs this has posed the huge educational challenge of bridging, for the majority of students, the “articulation gap” between inferior “apartheid” schooling and university. At the same time HBUs have to provide access to English as a medium of teaching and learning for speakers of Afrikaans and African languages.

HBUs, including UWC, have tended to adopt “open admission policies”. In contrast, the HWUs have tended to enforce stricter entrance requirements accompanied by intensive recruitment and incentive schemes for gifted black school students. Being unable to compete effectively for these promising young black students has affected the extent to which HBUs have been able to become thriving and powerful research-based institutions. UWC has made remarkable progress against the odds, but if it hopes to compete with the HWUs it will have to look beyond school-leavers for its primary constituency or client-base.

The University of the Western Cape (UWC)

UWC is an HBU set up in 1961 to serve people classified “coloured” (in the apartheid regime’s thinking, this meant that they were of mixed “European” and “non-European”, mainly African descent). From the late 1970s UWC developed a proud history of anti-apartheid struggle. It became especially well-known in the late 1980s for its defiant stance of open support for the then banned liberation movements. It had a student population of over 14 000 in 1995 with half being women, nearly half black African and the rest mainly “coloured” with a sprinkling of “white” students. In 1999 there are closer to 10 000 students with 60% being women and 60% being black African.1 The majority of students are from poor, working class homes, with many being first generation students.

UWC is feeling the impact of the changes in the higher education environment very intensely. It has set in motion a range of change processes to try to reposition the institution. One of the major ones has been the University Mission Initiative on Lifelong Learning (UMILL), which the Rector’s Office established in 1997. The UMILL represented the second stage in the development of lifelong learning as the framework within which UWC is proposing to operate. The first phase culminated in the discussion of a series of reports which focused on distance education and resource-based learning, continuing professional education and lifelong learning. At the end of 1998 the university moved into a third phase when it decided to set up a Division for Lifelong Learning which would work across faculties and would articulate and collaborate with various other key units to focus on teaching and learning, professional development of adult, continuing and higher educators, and continuing studies. Our active involvement in these processes has given rise to the issues we want to look at in this article.

We want to begin by teasing out what lifelong learning means for higher education. Lifelong learning as a framework raises questions about the working definitions of adult and continuing education, academic development and their organizational structures within higher education. While conceptually lifelong learning seems to hold much promise for re-imagining UWC, we are concerned with what may inhibit or enhance the realization of this promise.

Lifelong Learning in Higher Education

Partly driven by the demands of late capitalism and partly a form of resistance to these demands, lifelong learning (LL) has become a key concept in thinking about education and training worldwide. Social, technological, cultural, economic, legal and educational changes are happening at great speed throughout the world. At the same time there is an increasing global connectedness between many societies and economies. All these changes call for people who are adaptable and responsive; in short, who are capable of continuing lifelong learning. The even more dramatic changes now happening in South Africa make it especially important for the South African educational system, including the higher education system, to cultivate lifelong learners amongst students and educators and to provide for continuing learning throughout life. South Africans have to learn to deal with their reinsertion into the global economy and they have to ensure equity and redress after years of colonialism and apartheid.

By its nature, lifelong learning is cross-sectoral; it is not limited to formal education but includes adult and community education and workplace-based learning, along with access to other learning opportunities including libraries and electronically transmitted and stored data. It includes all sorts and levels of learning irrespective of its content, form or location. Embracing and endorsing principles of LL have implications for all aspects and facets of education and training. These include the ways in which we conceptualise, practise and reward university scholarship.

In education policy documents in various parts of the world, including South Africa, LL often seems a panacea: it will help career development, cure unemployment, encourage flexibility and change, raise personal and national competitiveness, help personal development, etc. It has become ”policy speak“ which assumes multiple meanings and interpretations. At one extreme, it is employed as a conceptual framework which presents a comprehensive and particular understanding of educational priorities, the strategies required to address these and a fundamental assertion of radically different and distinct forms of teaching and learning. At another level, its simpler expression places emphasis on making education available throughout the life cycle. In this form, the main questions relate to access and provision rooted in the principle of equity. In this latter dimension there is no explicit focus on teaching and learning; the main emphasis is on expanding present educational provision.

Many people have disconnected lifelong learning from social purpose education despite the ongoing reality of poverty and the evidence of continuing social conflict. In South Africa, we would argue, lifelong learning is integral to the struggle for democracy and social justice.

Consequences for Higher Education

It is customary to divide the work of higher education into three domains: teaching, research and community service. In each of these three areas, the purpose is to induce or facilitate learning. Since learning is never finished, it follows that the university must therefore aim to foster and support LL in each of the domains. If we accept this argument, it has significant implications for many aspects of higher education. Broadly speaking, we can divide these implications into two categories:

  • those to do with providing, for staff and students, learning opportunities throughout life, including articulation with learning contexts beyond the institution, and
  • those to do with assisting staff, students and graduates to develop the skills and attributes of lifelong learners.

Providing learning opportunities throughout life challenges the traditional culture of the university, which has privileged the provision of education to students of between 18 and 24 years and the notion of contact-based teaching. Provision to older students has most commonly been in the form of post-graduate studies to a relatively small group. Particularly amongst the historically black universities (HBUs) in South Africa there has been a large part-time provision to older students who attended classes in the evenings. While this has occurred, at times on a large scale, the part-time provision has not challenged the dominant culture of services to students at universities which assume that all students are young. Also, the dominant picture of teaching has privileged a notion of contact-based provision as opposed to notions of open learning which emphasize flexible, student-centred approaches to delivery.

Australian theorist on lifelong learning Phil Candy talks about “downwards linkages”, “sideways linkages” and “forward linkages” when discussing the provision of lifelong learning opportunities. The “downward linkages” refer to the university’s relationship to the school sector, with adult education and with various bridging courses. The “sideways linkages” refer to the relationship that higher education institutions enjoy with contexts where part of the learning occurs in the home, the workplace or the community. And the “forward linkages” refer to the relationships with graduates through postgraduate studies or, more commonly, through continuing professional education programmes (including academic staff development), public lecture series and various forms of outreach.

Accepting such a model would have significant implications for higher education. For instance, in terms of “downward linkages”, it would imply multiple entry pathways from school and from adult education programmes and recognition of prior learning. With respect to “sideways linkages” it would mean that those in geographically remote areas would have access to higher learning through flexible delivery. It would also imply that learners could obtain academic credit not only for studies completed elsewhere, but for varieties of learning undertaken at work, at home and through self-directed efforts. Finally, under “forward linkages” such an approach would mean not only greater ease of access to postgraduate and continuing professional education, but that institutions of higher education would increasingly be viewed as forms of “community learning centres”, whose lecture theatres, laboratories and libraries might receive considerably more intensive use than they do at present. Overall, such radically enhanced access to and use of higher education would have significant flow-on-effects to all parts of the culture and life of higher education institutions. This would need to occur without losing the distinctiveness of higher education. The main way to ensure this would be to stress the importance of the university retaining and extending its function as a research-based and self-reflective producer of new knowledge.

Developing Lifelong Learners through Higher Education

An influential study in Australia set out “to identify whether and in what ways the content, structure, teaching modes and assessment procedures of undergraduate degrees, and the activities of student support services, are designed to lead to the formation of attributes which both enable and encourage graduates to become lifelong learners”. The study accepted that lifelong education can be based both on instrumental values such as the need to maintain professional currency and to have an internationally competitive workforce, and on more liberal and humane considerations such as the enrichment of society and people’s fulfilment as individual citizens. They found that undergraduate courses which enhance LL have 5 basic characteristics (amongst others):

  1. they provide a systematic introduction to the field of study
  2. they offer a comparative or contextual framework for viewing the field of study
  3. they seek to broaden the student and provide generic skills
  4. they offer some freedom of choice and flexibility of structure
  5. they provide for the incremental development of self-directed learning

They also pointed to teaching methods that encourage graduates to become LL learners. These have the following characteristics:

  1. they make use of peer-assisted and self-directed learning
  2. they include experiential and real-world learning
  3. they make use of resource-based and problem-based learning
  4. they encourage the development of reflective practice and critical self-awareness
  5. as appropriate, they make use of open learning and alternative delivery mechanisms

LL as an organizing principle which strives to produce lifelong learners and to provide for continuing learning throughout life, can thus be seen to have many implications for the system as a whole, for individual institutions, for courses or programmes of study, and ultimately for individual members of both academic and support staff. In the following section we will develop these ideas further in relation to UWC.

Focusing our Gaze Inwards: Re-imagining Academic Development

The discourse known in South Africa as “Academic Development” (“AD”) was initially a reconceptualization of what were referred to as Academic Support Programmes (ASPs) in the historically white universities (HWUs). The key difference between AD and ASPs was that AD was meant to change institutions to meet the needs of students and society as much as it was concerned to meet the needs of so-called “disadvantaged” students. UWC established its own AD Programme in 1991 on the premise that all academics should contribute to the realization of the AD mission. To implement this idea, Faculty AD committees were established to work in collaboration with an AD Centre (ADC), the latter having a set of projects focusing on admission policy, teaching and learning, language, computer-supported education (CSE), educational research, tutorial programme development and peer group learning. Although there have been significant improvements in teaching and learning since the establishment of the AD programme, a number of weaknesses in what some refer to as the ‘infusion’ model have become apparent. These are:

  1. conceptual confusion around the term Academic Development, with a strong tendency to persist in identifying it with the remediation of disadvantaged students; at the same time there has been no coherent institutional policy for dealing with the needs of such students, particularly at entry level
  2. the tendency to leave the responsibility for AD to committed individuals, relatively junior staff and marginal committees; there have been no strategic plans around AD at institutional, faculty and departmental levels which identify clearly defined roles and responsibilities at all levels, including top and middle management
  3. the lack of clearly specified and enabling policy guidelines and implementation strategies for the improvement and evaluation of teaching and learning
  4. insufficient material and human resources to meet the scale of the development challenge

UWC allocated eight permanent academic posts to the ADC to provide the basis around which externally funded short-term projects could operate. But a decision to delay reappointments to the permanent posts during a time of uncertainty around the future of AD had a severely damaging effect on the ADC and ADP, with many top quality ADC staff leaving the university to take up more secure and rewarding positions elsewhere.

In 1997 the South African Association for Academic Development (SAAAD) conducted a national audit of AD which recommended that AD should be defined as comprising student, staff, curriculum and organizational development. In response to the audit and to the emerging national policy documents, a Task Group of the UWC Broad Transformation Forum proposed the following dual definition of AD:

  • Academic Development is a systemic and systematic set of policies and practices based in Higher Education, involving student development, staff development, curriculum development and organizational development in a concerted effort to promote lifelong learning for the sake of individual, social and environmental well being.
  • Academic Development is the intellectual, academic and professional discipline required to theorize, devise, implement and review Academic Development policies and practices.

Since 1996 there have been a number of competing proposals for the reconceptualization of AD at UWC, one of which has been to dispense with the term AD altogether and to use lifelong learning in its stead as the conceptual framework for a carefully elaborated teaching and learning policy, with appropriate structures and processes for policy implementation and evaluation. The dominant position amongst the leadership of the university, however, is that AD should be decentralized, with AD co-ordinators allocated to faculties and projects or units within the ADC relocated elsewhere on campus. The leadership enforced this view at the end of 1999.

If, however, the new national higher education policy itself requires a shift from AD to lifelong learning as a framework for development that goes beyond the remediation of young school-leaving students, we can expect to see:

  • a redefinition of student development, with a widened focus on entry-level students to include older students
  • the development of assessment procedures for the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL)
  • research-based efforts to define specific and cross-field outcomes in relation to the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) with its vision of emancipatory Outcomes Based Education (OBE)
  • facilitation of and research into student development in disciplines and in programmes and their constituent modules
  • a redefinition of staff development, with a shift from an ad hoc, voluntarist, informal/non-formal consultancy model to a lifelong learning/NQF model with a carefully theorized synergy between formal and informal/non-formal development programmes and practices
  • a comprehensive model of staff development going beyond the identification of staff development and teaching development
  • a conception of teaching that goes beyond the facilitation of learning to include design and management components in the context of resource-based learning and flexible delivery
  • clearer direction regarding the implementation of language and literacy policy, with literacy understood as both a means and an end of learning
  • the use of lifelong learning as the framework for the development of generic specialists on university-based teaching and learning
  • a redefinition of curriculum development, with curriculum development understood as an aspect of teaching
  • a shift from (but not entirely away from) disciplines to other frames for the production and dissemination of knowledge: programmes, short courses, modules, learnerships (involving joint education and training projects run by the university in collaboration with employers)
  • a stronger focus on assessment and evaluation practices for students and staff
  • a more systematic approach to organizational development, driven by the national imperative for strategic and three-year rolling plans, with implementation of the notion of the learning organization
  • lifelong learning as the framework for the policy cycle of formulation, implementation and review, with defined roles and accountability at all levels of the institution
  • a home-grown quality promotion culture which is collegial and formative, while also meeting the needs of internal and external quality assurance agencies

Focusing our Gaze Outwards: Re-imagining University Adult and Continuing Education

Most people see adult and continuing education in universities as outward-looking activities. In the International Journal of University Adult Education, adult education and continuing education at universities are used to include:

  • general non-credit education (university extension)
  • professional continuing education
  • part-time degree credit study for adults
  • university level distance education
  • training of adult and continuing educators and
  • research in adult and continuing education

In South Africa, and at UWC, “adult education” in universities has mainly referred to the latter two areas of training adult educators and research. “Continuing education” and “extra-mural studies” have described university extension and continuing professional education. Part-time degree courses for adults have not been a distinctive programme but rather a duplication of what is offered in the day. There has been a rigid demarcation between “distance” and “face to face” modes of delivery with only a few universities being designated as “distance education institutions”. This has recently changed with the new higher education legislation.

The Centre for Adult and Continuing Education (CACE), established at UWC in 1985, was the first department of adult education at an HBU and it prioritised “adult education” by which it meant training, research, networking and support for “adult educators"2 who were located within poor, working class communities and linked to the democratic movement. UWC consciously chose to prioritise adult education over continuing education. In so doing, at the time, it chose to build adult education as a legitimate Field of study and to work closely with practitioners in the field.3

Funding from the state for adult and continuing education was only possible if it was to be for formal subsidized professional courses of study. Adult education has depended primarily on private donor funding. Adult education activities have most often been marginal to the mainstream university activities.

The UMILL investigation has sharpened our awareness of the overlap and synergy between what has been traditionally the domain of academic development and that of adult and continuing education. Lifelong learning, as defined above, is about cultivating lifelong learners and providing lifelong learning opportunities for students and educators within a broader framework of promoting democratic citizenship. Within this definition the mainstream curriculum and delivery of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes are implicated as are the continuing education and outreach components. Within the context of new ways of thinking about learning and teaching, the demarcation between residential and distance education is diminishing and the difference between part-time and full-time learners is lessening. Lifelong learning is bringing together what has traditionally fallen within the area of academic development, including student, staff, and organizational development, and that within adult and continuing education. Adult education perspectives which highlight learner-centeredness are becoming increasingly important in the thinking about teaching and learning within the universities as a whole.

Organizing Lifelong Learning within the University

While there appear to be strong arguments to justify major shifts in reorganizing resources and understandings to enable lifelong learning to provide a frame for UWC’s re-imagining, what are the obstacles, the resistances and the possibilities for this to happen? How does a university construct an identity as an effective lifelong learning institution?

It is premature to try to give authoritative answers to these questions as we are immersed in complex institutional processes where we are attempting under difficult circumstances to re-imagine the university. We offer a preliminary reflective dialogue between the two of us as a way of identifying some of the key issues.

TV: If we consider what is actually happening, first globally, and secondly nationally, we notice two things: One is that the frameworks provided by various grand narratives (“The Enlightenment Project”, “The dialectical movement towards the classless society”, etc.) are being questioned and what we have instead is an infinitely expanding horizon of multiple possibilities and narratives. In this respect “lifelong learning” (Whose life? What life? How long is such a life?) presents an open-ended alternative to the grand narratives (and in fact a new grand narrative) in which “learning” is written over concepts like “struggle” and “development”. It suggests that we, as individuals, as institutions, as cultures, as societies, as a species, should base all our narratives on the proposition that there is no closure (neither formal nor informal) to learning. It’s worth noting in passing that Marx and Engels, in the Communist Manifesto, saw ongoing, dynamic and rapid “change” as one of the primary features of the bourgeois age. So “lifelong learning” does run the risk of falling into certain bourgeois and neo-liberal traps. But, as we hope to show at UWC, that doesn’t have to be the case.

SW: Lifelong learning is certainly not a well understood term amongst academics. This isn’t surprising as even amongst advocates of lifelong learning there are very different views and ideological commitments. Some see lifelong learning as a useful lever to speed up the marketization of higher education and others, opposed to this, see it as a way of opening up the institutions so that they are less elitist and able to serve the educational interests of wider constituencies of people who have been excluded. Lifelong learning is a framework within which higher education can function to enhance democratic citizenship. Lifelong learning is inclined to sharpen minds around the perennial questions as to the primary purposes of universities. A key concern is whether UWC is going to become a form of “community college” or “second rate university”and we want to argue that all universities can be “lifelong learning universities” without any compromise with regard to quality.

TV: It is absolutely critical that lifelong learning is conceptualised in such a way that scholarship (including research) is fore grounded as the basis for the way in which a university engages with and helps to constitute the discourse of lifelong learning. Scholarship is at the heart of what the academic is all about and we can think of the academic’s work as the scholarship of discovery, the scholarship of integration (as in the writing of textbooks), the scholarship of application, and the scholarship of teaching. Scholarship is crucial to lifelong learning. Research is a fundamental part of learning. If academics do not see this link they are unlikely to support lifelong learning as a legitimate framework.

SW: Universities in general are bureaucracies which are ruled by the mainly male professors and mainly male senior administrators, within structures that affirm patriarchal organizational cultures. Few professors and administrators identify themselves as lifelong learners. Power in the institutions resides within disciplines which are sometimes shored up by professional associations. Lifelong learning questions traditional authority as it assumes that learning is ongoing and therefore inevitably disruptive at times. This is unsettling for traditionalists.

TV: We need to encourage the people who work within the university to be lifelong learners within a “learning organization”. In my experience, few male colleagues have been open to this orientation. Women are generally far more process-orientated, so that while male cultures dominate the institutions it is hard to imagine how deep change will occur. Having said this, it is interesting that it is in the male-dominated world of the corporations that some people are developing new ways of thinking about organizations.

SW: The notion of a learning organization is a new one for most universities. As I understand it, learning organizations seek to improve performance through ongoing, cooperative learning. According to Peter Senge, the key elements are systems thinking, personal mastery, shared vision and team building. Universities often affirm individualism rather than team-work or cooperation. Furthermore, issues of organizational design and processes are usually not in focus. Bureaucratic agendas structure what happens rather than organic processes. So lifelong learning is really challenging some fundamental paradigms about organizations.

TV: Yes, staff development is critical in a learning organization and in a university, but people seldom see it as relevant for academic staff or for the leadership. This links also to the fact that few academics see teaching as a primary role. Their identities are primarily as researchers. The reward systems certainly emphasize this. It is a problem where the shift in emphasis is from teaching to learning. Unless the reward systems change to affirm quality teaching and learning, this is unlikely to change. I do think that the shift in some countries to requiring academics to have teaching qualifications may help. South Africa is beginning to move in this direction with the establishment of a Standards-Generating Body (SGB) for higher educators under the aegis of the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA).

SW: ûhe proliferation of new technologies is certainly challenging academics to think differently about teaching and learning. It is also encouraging moves from contact teaching as the primary mode to resource-based learning. Asynchronous learning and teaching may become the order of the day. The new technologies are important levers for change which allow far greater flexibility by both academics and students. Teaching and learning is being revolutionized and scholarship of teaching is being emphasized.

TV: Flexible resource-based learning which is learner-centred has major implications for the curricula. The modularisation of courses and programmes requires us to rethink content and to reduce it to “byte sizes”. The packaging of materials has major implications for delivery and for conceptions of what we teach. Lifelong learning encourages this more flexible approach, which also recognizes prior learning. It emphasizes access in terms of epistemology, time and space. There is certainly a revolution in higher education which requires academics and administrators to be open to change. But most universities are just so conservative!

SW: Yes, but the global capitalist economy is shaping these developments. The argument is that if universities do not change they will become increasingly irrelevant as other institutions take over their traditional functions. Tax payers will refuse to fund them. So it is vital that universities do change their ways of relating to communities in the wider society. In South Africa this means ensuring that scholarship relates to the needs of the majority of women and men. Addressing issues of poverty alleviation, equity and redress must be central. The lifelong learning needs of poor and marginalized communities which enable them to survive economically, culturally and personally are the concern of universities. Within the lifelong learning framework this would mean ensuring that the internal and external gazes of students and academics are infused with these social, political, economic and cultural issues.

TV: Where lifelong learning is the overarching framework, perhaps there is no longer obvious justification for the separation conceptually of “adult continuing education” and “academic or student or staff or organizational development” within the university. Whether this is possible organizationally, remains to be seen. Academic argument certainly does not necessarily translate into rational structures. Organizational contestations which relate to resource allocations are a key consideration.

SW: Yes, how the institution restructures itself within a lifelong learning framework is an immediate problematic for us at UWC. While lifelong learning is a new concept for the majority, perhaps it is most important that the changed understanding of the shift from teaching to learning is the concept that people grasp most immediately. We then need to understand this within the broader philosophical framework of lifelong learning. It is crucial that lifelong learning is not “owned” by or identified with any structure but is seen as a university vision of itself. It must be a vision that top and middle management strongly and consistently advocate and implement.

TV: Lifelong learning as a framework for an institution forces our gaze inwards and outwards, as we have said. I think it also focuses it upwards and downwards! By this I mean, we need to look at the very local (downwards) and also at the global (upwards). The transformation of higher education is occurring within an intensified period of globalisation where the aim is to transform the world into a single world market dominated by the interests of big multinationals mainly from the most developed countries of the North. Developments within higher education reflect the universities’ significant roles in these processes. Lifelong learning can be a central plank in the marketization of higher education as it encourages, for example, flexibility of delivery of programmes, greater autonomy of students, and individualization of learning. This has increased trans-national delivery of programmes.

SW: You’re right. We can no longer consider higher education a national concern as universities, particularly in the developed North, actively pursue markets around the world. In this process curricula are being dislodged from the local base and the prospects of ahistorical, decontextualized curricula grow ever stronger. That’s why it is very important to explore the intersection of knowledge, capital and technology in this context. The prospects for lifelong learning being able to push an emancipatory agenda will be bleak unless firstly, the superpowers perceive it to be in their interest to promote a more balanced global economic system (growing doubts about the viability of the speculative global economy offer some hope in this regard) and secondly, the exploited nations develop effective counter-hegemony strategies.

In Closing

We have argued that lifelong learning is a project of the imagination as well as of pedagogy and organization. The concept is visionary, but it also challenges pedagogical and organizational understandings of the university’s functioning in fundamental ways. It encourages the traversing of traditional professional domains like academic development, adult education, continuing education and higher education studies, which leads to new insights into staff, student, curricula and organizational developments at the university. It questions again the social purposes of the university locally and globally and the ways in which the institution relates to its different communities. It is unsettling because it does allow the re-imagining of a higher education institution within holistic life-long and life-wide educational perspectives. Debates on lifelong learning remind us that the university is an ethical project, and the framework raises new possibilities on how to give meaning to it.


1 The decline in student numbers may seem paradoxical at a time when the newly found democracy was to open the doors of learning to the previously disadvantaged. Some of the explanations for the decline may relate to possibilities for students to choose amongst a wider range of institutions, the serious economic conditions, and the slow rate of adaptation by the institution to the new circumstances. We need research to explain the phenomenon more precisely.

2 What we mean by adult educators has shifted slightly over time. In general, it describes a range of community educators / activists who work in areas of health, youth, development, literacy, advice offices etc. Lately it has come to include trainers in industry and teachers in government adult learning centres. The professional development of higher educations is becoming increasingly important within the discussions in higher education.

3 In 1982 there were 2 studies undertaken, one by Prof. du Toit "Die UWK en voortgesette onderwys", a report for the Renewal Committee, UWC, and the second by Shirley Walters "The role of the UWC in Adult Education", ISD, UWC. The first argued for the establishment of a continuing education facility along the lines of those at Afrikaans "white" universities, and the second argued for an institute of adult education which built on experiences of other universities in southern Africa like Botswana, Zimbabwe and the University of Cape Town (UCT)