Opening up universities: a comparative study of barriers to lifelong learning in Germany and England

Marr, Elizabeth; Mossidiss, Sonia and Harvey, Morag (2012). Opening up universities: a comparative study of barriers to lifelong learning in Germany and England. In: Jones, Bill and Oosthuizen, Susan eds. Part-Time study: the new paradigm for higher education. UALL 2011 conference proceedings. Leicester: Universities Association of Lifelong Learning, pp. 92–107.



Whilst UK HE is facing radical and fundamental transformation as a consequence of funding changes in England, HE systems across Europe are also addressing challenges related to skills shortages and funding gaps. Of particular concern across Europe is the experience of part time vocational learners who face barriers in transition to academic study, markedly so in countries such as Germany where the passage between these educational experiences is impermeably set from an early age. In England, there is in theory greater permeability but in practice, the social class system has created constructs which set limits to individual aspiration and progression into and through higher education, more so for part time students.

This paper reports on the preliminary stages of a German Federal Republic funded project, Opening up Universities to Lifelong Learning (OPULL). Led by Leuphana University and comprising partners in Denmark, Finland and the UK, the project aims to identify good practice in transitions between vocational and academic study and full time and part time modes in order to enhance opportunities for lifelong learning.

The first phase of the project has mapped the educational systems of each of the participating countries, highlighting the existing opportunities for flexibility and examples of good practice which might be tested in other contexts. This work will form the basis of the future phases which will conduct comparative evaluation of part time student experiences, explore the potential for transferrable recognition of prior achievement for vocational learners and recommend models for European -wide lifelong learning schemes.

The mapping reports revealed a range of issues which highlight the importance of cultural context but also reveal some potentially transferable practices. This paper focuses on the learning from the German and English mapping exercises and shows that, whilst there have been some effective initiatives in the latter which might transfer well, they have all been victims of policy short-termism. The consequences and implications for the next phase of the project are discussed.

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