Educational entrepreneurs take over university role

Liz Mayor describes how she bounced back from redundancy to found the Classical Education Forum in Cardiff

This time last year around one hundred part-time lecturers were made redundant from Cardiff University’s Centre for Lifelong Learning and I was one of them. The whole of previous year had been spent trying to resolve issues of pay and conditions regarding part-time lecturing staff and we thought they had been resolved. However, the university came up with a unilateral solution of its own which was mass redundancy.

Losing your job is a terrible thing to go through and I found it devastating at both a personal and professional level. I had been at the university for 16 years, lecturing on Ancient History courses and teaching Latin, and I thoroughly enjoyed the work. There was need for change but mass redundancy was extremely clumsy with the loss of a wealth of experience to the university. It will regret what it has done as in future more people will have to adjust to obtaining degrees and diplomas through part time study.

At the same time redundancy focussed my mind and galvanised me into action. I decided that slashing the Humanities department at the University’s Centre for Lifelong Learning would leave a massive gap in the provision of part-time courses. So a group of us, all former part time tutors at Cardiff University set up the Classical Education Forum, a small educational business providing Higher Education courses in the community.

We’ve now been running successfully for a year. The business is self-supporting and has received no money from any organisation to help set up the forum as yet. I have made contact with Cardiff City Council and the Welsh Government and received some very positive feedback. However, it seems we cannot attract funding until we have our own premises.

The Classical Education Forum runs classes at two community centres, Ararat in Whitchurch and Thornhill, both situated on good bus routes and with free car parking. The wide-ranging courses are delivered by highly qualified individuals and this year we will begin offering some accreditation although this is not compulsory. There will be courses on Ancient History and Ancient Languages, Egyptology, Cultural Studies, Family History, Medieval and Contemporary History, Studies in Journalism, Creative Writing, Literature and Drama, and Art History. We also run special events, talks and trips to galleries, plays, and museums. It is also hoped that shortly some courses will appear online as the Forum has attracted interest from America. E-learning is becoming increasingly popular at home and abroad.

This year staff numbers will be increased as some post-graduates join us to increase the range of courses which are delivered throughout the day and evening. As universities are cutting back, providing opportunities for post-graduates is extremely satisfying. Having been a victim of such university policy I now have the opportunity to offer a helping hand to some young people at the beginning of their careers. We also have links with the University of the Third Age, the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace), and other local organisations.

The Forum has been launched during the worst economic depression for decades but nevertheless we have a continual flow of new students. We hope to find suitable premises in the near future which will be critical to our continuing expansion and success.

The new coalition government tells us that they are very supportive of new businesses but rents are very expensive and commercial rates are very high. The idea that funding should come after the finding of such premises seems to me to be short-sighted as premises. This is exactly the area where swift support would be most useful for a new business. There are a lot of empty properties in Cardiff and a helping hand with this, without a mass of red tape, would propel us, and many other young Welsh businesses, forward.

The Classical Education Forum has a brand new autumn prospectus and is keen to make links with organisations in Wales with regard to mutual support. Get in touch through our website www.classicaleducationforum.co.uk.

Liz Mayor is a Senior Lecturer and Head of the Classical Education Forum. She is Niace’s 2010 Entrepreneur Tutor of the Year.

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