Beyond the Lecture Hall: Universities and Community Engagement from the Middle Ages to the Present Day

Peter Rushbrook (Charles Sturt University, Australia)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Article publication date: 24 June 2011



Rushbrook, P. (2011), "Beyond the Lecture Hall: Universities and Community Engagement from the Middle Ages to the Present Day", History of Education Review, Vol. 40 No. 1, pp. 97-99.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

There is a danger with published conference proceedings of a lack of flow or continuity, in spite of professed themed linkages. This is particularly so of a title that also includes an ambitious time frame. This collection of papers, however, drawn from a conference celebrating the 800th anniversary of the University of Cambridge under the aegis of the History of Education Society UK is quite remarkable in that it delivers all that the title claims. Central to this success is the care with which the editors have foregrounded the papers within a sharply written Introduction. The selected papers have been grouped within one or more of four “strands”, each of which emphasises the overall conference theme of interrogating examples of the university‐society nexus. First, there is a strand that explores the role of university publishing in sharing ivory tower knowledge with a wider reading public. In the New Millennium, this also includes the broadcasting media and distance learning through the internet. Second, there is a strand that examines the role of the university in preparing graduates for the vocational professions, in particular those professions whose origins are to be found in non‐university contexts; for example, law at the Inns of Court and medicine within hospitals. This strand also deftly problematises the concept of “community” and how it is applied to the equally problematic notion of “the university”. The third strand highlights the long standing relationship between universities and schooling systems through the creation of examination boards serving local, national and international audiences, the publication of textbooks and other materials, and the training and education of teachers. The fourth and final strand critically appraises the often vexed place within the university of adult and continuing, or “extension”, education. From this well‐conceived framework the 11 selected papers unfold in a manner that invites exploration.

David Watson's short paper usefully contextualises the university within time and space, arguing that shifts in internal self‐definition and external community expectations are historically contingent and changing but united in the belief of a vital continuing role for the university as a centre for learning, whether as an isolated academy or a trainer of the professions. Bill Jones explores the role of James Stuart of Trinity College Cambridge in establishing the university extension movement from the mid‐nineteenth century. Central to the paper is its focus on rural community engagement. His perceptive paper is a useful addition to the sparse literature in the field. Keith Vernon's contribution to the collection examines the relationship between the “civic universities” established in early twentieth‐century England and their local communities. His case study of Liverpool University suggests tensions between a chartered desire to serve the community and the extra‐local demands of the professional training and mimicking the “non‐local” Oxbridge model. David McKitterick's fascinating paper on university publishing locates the place of the university press within a problematised notion of “community”. Among other examples, he considers in detail the long standing Cambridge University Press and its publication since the early seventeenth century of myriad textbooks and other school resources, in addition to a near monopoly on the King James Bible. Paul Aubin's paper on educational radio in Quebec ably demonstrates the power of the medium to convey academic knowledge, including complex scientific concepts, to large audiences. Within this context Aubin also emphasises the potential of radio to reinforce cultural identity and the preservation and promotion of language, in this case the French language in Quebec.

Rosemary O'Day challenges the assumption that the early modern relationship between the university and the “learned professions” was in any way simple. Rather than accept a conventional reading of the sixteenth‐ and seventeenth‐century Oxbridge model as occupying a marginal role in educating lawyers and doctors because of their location close to their sources of practice – law courts and hospitals – and not within the university, O'Day argues that the universities exercised long‐lasting influence through resident expertise and relationships forged through collegial life. Philo Hutcheson returns the edited collection to North America and tackles the complex issue of liberal education and the training of 1930s African‐American physicians in the United States. Demonstrating clearly that such education often incorporated “acts of exclusion” in the form of Eurocentric literature or assumed “white” cultural practices, he argues it contributed well into the 1990s to a less than subtle diminution of black over white practitioner status. Sandra Raban's paper explores a themed sub‐text within the collection: the seminal role of the University of Cambridge in fomenting the traditions of community engagement. In this case Raban explores the place of Cambridge auspiced examinations within the English secondary system. She posits, in an argument suggesting the persistence of the separation of “mind” and “body” in the secondary and vocational systems, or banausism, that the privileging of the former over the latter has contributed to secondary educational elitism in England and vestiges of post‐colonialism in international users of the Cambridge model.

Three equally interesting papers conclude the collection. Geoffrey Sherington and Julia Horne continue the theme of university‐secondary school engagement, but within an Australian context. They argue that though the nineteenth‐century university promoted a form of meritocracy and egalitarianism based on the performance of secondary students in public examinations and scholarship applications, the persistence of the British ideology of athleticism privileged male cultural bonds over all others, contributing to a system skewed by gender and class. Gordon Dadswell's wonderful paper also has an Antipodean theme but within the area of the construction of early to mid‐twentieth‐century Victorian adult education. His incisive narrative and analysis unravels the complexities of the relationship between the University of Melbourne, its office of university extension and the Workers Education Association of Victoria. The inevitable excision of non‐credentialed adult learning from an increasingly vocationalising university is a tale of the increasing marginalisation of adult education from the university, but with a happy ending through Vice‐Chancellor John Medley's support of the nascent Council of Adult Education (CAE), seen by many as a twentieth‐century jewel of adult education provision. The final paper, by Chris Duke, offers a more pessimistic view of the future of adult extension or “extramural liberal adult education”. Unlike the CAE, Duke argues that the “Great Tradition” has been subsumed within the English Department of Education and its regulations and lost its “bottom up” radicalism in favour of a “top down” structure emphasising “Equivalent Lower Qualifications”.

The final two papers are perhaps a fitting place to conclude this varied collection. Represented in both are in turn optimism and pessimism, suggesting that there is no binding grand narrative for the university and the relationships it enjoys, or suffers, with its communities. All such relationships, it may be suggested further, have then the potential to be formed though individual or collective agency, which is as it should be.

Related articles