Christian Ude

We publish below the speech of greeting by the President of the German Association of Cities, Christian Ude, Mayor of Munich. The German Association of Cities is the largest umbrella group of local authorities in Germany. It represents the interests of all self-governing cities, and most towns that are integral parts of larger districts. It brings together almost 4700 cities and other local authorities, with a total of 51 million inhabitants.

Greetings: The Volkshochschulen are the most Important Centres of Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning

I am delighted to accept the invitation to say a few words as President of the German Association of Cities at the opening of the 2006 German Adult Education Conference.

First, because continuing education is a key task in order to protect people's local livelihoods. Secondly, because the Volkshochschulen are the most important centres of continuing education and lifelong learning in towns, cities and rural areas. And finally, thirdly, because this field of local education currently faces huge challenges.

Allow me to make a few remarks about these three aspects.

In the current debate about education policy, the entire education system in Germany is under the microscope. At local authority level too, educational reform measures are being widely discussed. Towns and cities do not see themselves merely as suffering the effects. Rather, they are committed to playing an active role in education policy initiatives and in implementing reform measures. Continuing education is an independent part of local political action, in which local responsibility can be demonstrated. In view of the trend to open up ever more areas of local action to the market, I regard it as crucial to defend continuing education as a way of protecting local life.

Lifelong Learning

We must all learn for as long as possible, and if possible throughout life. There is widespread agreement over this general and almost trivial observation. When it comes to defining the criteria for lifelong learning more precisely, and to identifying the consequences for public responsibility and support for the individual phases of education, opinions differ.

Local authority action in continuing education and training is guided by a broad view of education. According to this, continuing education should be used also, but not exclusively, in the context of work. Only constant learning, building on what has gone before, can ensure a sustainable place in the labour market, and an effective continuing education and training structure also underpins local and regional economic development. This frequently described shift to the knowledge-based society not only affects the world of work, however. There is the complex task of continually looking at reality afresh, interpreting it and finding one's bearings, which cannot be performed purely by just-in-time learning. Because demands at work are constantly in flux, our educational institutions must, among other things, help learners of all ages to become independent individuals capable of learning and making judgments, who can express themselves and become involved in society.

Continuing education is not a private matter. This was realised by the German Association of Cities in 1996, when it called for the Volkshochschulen to remain at the spiritual, educational and organizational heart of an overall system of plural continuing education. A policy of public responsibility for continuing education means that continuing education is not simply an activity pursued by various players as they see fit, but that it needs to be included in an overall system of education because of its growing importance for the individual and society.

1000 Volkshochschulen, 7 Million Learners

A barely comprehensible continuing education market has now grown up, in which the state only has shared responsibility. This move, from total to shared public responsibility, is also reflected in the changes to the funding of the Volkshochschulen. In the last ten years, for instance, the proportions of funds drawn from different sources have altered appreciably. While the proportion of public subventions has continually fallen, the significance of student fees in the funding of Volkshochschulen has risen markedly. Closer examination of the public subventions shows, however, that the proportion from local authorities is growing, while that from the Laender is declining. That means that the local authorities have maintained their funding of the Volkshochschulen which they sponsor despite their desperate financial shortages. The City of Munich, for example, pays for its Volkshochschulen more than the Free State of Bavaria for all the 220 Volkshochschulen in that entire Land.

Sponsorship of around two thirds of the 1000 or so Volkshochschulen in the country is the most obvious expression of local authority commitment to continuing education. They are highly prized by the public. Each year, some 7 million participants attend Volkshochschule courses and events. Despite cuts in funding and provision, the national total of 15 million teaching hours has remained stable. Customer surveys demonstrate the high quality of the institutions and the value placed upon them by the general population.

Let me mention three challenges which particularly affect community adult education in my view:

1. A New Task: the Older Generation

The trend towards an aging and then declining population in Germany is irreversible. The numerical relationship between the various groups of working age will shift over the coming decades, to favour the older cohorts, the over-50s. In the light of this development, we need to foster the skills and experience of the older generations in working and social life. We can no longer regard advanced age as a kind of coda, but as a major portion of life - often extending over more than 30 years. And we should free ourselves of the traditional idea that someone aged 60 or 70 years is no longer capable of carrying out intellectual, artistic or physical tasks in occupational or social life. We need to expand and strengthen the skills of the older generation. The Volkshochschulen are already making an important contribution to this, the importance of which will increase with demographic change. If the innovative ability and cultural climate of this society is to be increasingly determined by the older generation, we have to invest in continuing education and lifelong learning.

2. Compensating for the Failings of the School System

For a long time - not just since the Pisa studies - we have known that the educational expansion of the past has given way to general stagnation.. The German education system is failing particularly in the promotion of weaker students. But subsequent willingness to go on learning and to take up what is offered by continuing education is also dependent on level of education. That means that the level of competence and barriers to education of the future working population can be deduced from the findings of the current Pisa studies. Moreover, since the early 1990s, the proportion of young people leaving the education system without any formal qualification or at best with poor lower secondary results, has again been rising considerably. However this scandalous finding may be viewed in detail, we cannot afford to wait until thorough reforms of the school and training system take effect. There is no doubt that the classic task of continuing education, that of giving young adults a second chance and the opportunity to acquire vocational qualifications at a later stage, will become increasingly important and will require additional financial efforts.

3. Volkshochschulen Fostering Integration

Among the larger European countries, Germany has by far the highest proportion of foreigners among the population. By introducing an Immigration Act, Germany is in fact in the process of defining itself officially as a country of immigration. Despite serious underfunding and excessive bureaucracy, integration courses, the bulk of which are provided by the Volkshochschulen, are a first important step which must be protected from current proposed cuts. A sufficient knowledge of the language is the prime factor in successful integration. It needs to be followed by vocational training. There is also a need for a long-term process of giving people from different backgrounds, who are undeniably here, a sense of belonging to our society.

In an immigration society, education is a wide-ranging task involving both migrants and natives, since a new normality of living together which remains committed to the principles of liberal democracy despite cultural differences, can only be achieved jointly.

Integration does not happen by itself, as the cry for help from the Neu-kolln Teachers' Council has once again reminded us. It is not only the naive folklore of multiculturalism, which overlooked every problem, that has failed, but also the refusal over many years to acknowledge the reality of immigration in this society and to strengthen the capacity for integration of the school and education system at all levels.

There is a gross mismatch between the challenges I have outlined, which will crucially affect the future activities of continuing education in my view, and the current state of resources for continuing education and education as a whole.

What the Market Cannot Deliver

The German Association of Cities takes the view that public responsibility and private involvement are the joint pillars of the continuing education system in Germany. A "market model" alone would not be able to meet educational, social and labour market needs. What independent provider would offer continuing education in structurally deprived areas? Who would offer provision for target groups that are alien to education or disadvantaged, from whom earnings would be meagre? Ultimately, it is likely that these areas of provision will continue to be covered by the public purse, while more profitable areas such as languages or health education courses are covered by private providers.

The Volkshochschulen are and will remain an integral and indispensable part of the local education infrastructure and of lifelong learning. The Laender need to give reliable and appropriate support to the Volkshochschulen and continuing education as a whole. We cannot allow the Laender to withdraw from supporting adult education, as was recently actually decided in Bavaria. The Federal Government should also not be permitted to escape its educational responsibility and must retain the ability in future to initiate national schemes to equalize capacity. The current cuts to the "Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning" budget are totally inappropriate.

The challenges facing continuing education, and education as a whole, are so great that they can only be met by sensible collaboration between the various levels of funding, with the proviso that local, publicly sponsored Volkshochschulen remain a key element of the system of lifelong learning.

I therefore hope that the German Adult Education Conference will succeed in highlighting the importance of the Volkshochschulen as local community centres of lifelong learning, and in fostering their significant further development.