Our Brotherton Fellow, Pushpa Kumbhat, writes:  I was delighted to be awarded a short term post-doctoral Brotherton Fellowship for May 2019.  This allowed me to expand my PhD research interest in the history of inter-war adult education by giving me time and funds to study the University of Leeds Archive.

2019 marks the centenary of ‘The 1919 Report. The final and interim reports of the Adult Education Committee of the Ministry of Reconstruction’ – a seminal yet overlooked work that explored ‘the provision for, and possibilities of, Adult Education … in Great Britain…’  ‘The 1919 Report’ provided a comprehensive survey of all aspects of non-vocational contemporary adult education.  It concluded that adult education was a ‘permanent national necessity, an inseparable aspect of citizenship and therefore should be both universal and lifelong.’  How and why did British universities, tutors and educationalists engage with the ideas and recommendations of ‘The 1919 Report’ between 1919 and 1939 – a time of political, economic and social turmoil?

Here is where the University of Leeds Archive comes into its own and gives valuable insight into the world of adult education from the perspective of universities nationwide. The archive is extensive so I will summarise three parts of the collection that give a sense of its potential.

The ‘Leeds University Extension Lectures and Tutorial Class Reports’ (1932–1945) detail the very successful collaboration between the University of Leeds and the Workers’ Educational Association. Subjects taught included literature, economics, philosophy, history, biology, psychology and politics. Statistics collected on the number of students attending classes and their occupations show that manual workers comprised the majority of students for all years. The records make clear that the University of Leeds took its extra mural activities seriously and embraced opportunities to democratise access to higher education in Yorkshire.

Cover of report
Cover of ‘The University of Leeds, Department of Adult Education and Extra-Mural Studies, University Extension, Reports on Classes. 1953-54’. Image credit Leeds University Library.

The University Extra-Mural Consultative Committee Annual Reports of University Extension Lecture Courses’ (1925-1939) give details including the subject, location, tutor of all extension lecture courses run by universities nationwide.  Extension lectures and courses were the first form (from around 1873) of extra-mural education provided by universities. University lecturers travelled to different locations across Britain to deliver lectures and courses in subjects such as history, philosophy and geology to the general public.  In this way the universities endeavoured to ‘extend’ access to higher education to broader sections of the population. What emerges is a comprehensive nationwide network of extra-mural education organised by the universities as part of their normal work.  These records present a narrative of inclusivity by the universities which gently challenges the traditional perception of universities as exclusive elite institutions.

Cover of annual report
Cover of the ‘Universities Extra-Mural Consultative Committee. Annual Report of University Extension Lecture Courses for the Year, 1925-6’. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Perhaps the most intriguing and most human records are three volumes of ‘Tutor Reports on the tutorial classes offered.  The reports are rich in pedagogical observation on how adult students responded to extra-mural education and how tutors could improve their ability to teach and communicate with such students.  Valuable insight into the world of an adult tutor emerges from these records. Significantly all the material studied supported the idea of education for democracy promoted by the 1919 Report.

It has been a pleasure to explore this archive which has the potential to be the basis of a nationwide historical study of the relationship between British universities, extra-mural education and a democratic society.  My special thanks go to Dr Laura King, Joanne Fitton, Jennifer Povey, Nick Brewster and Professor Allison Fell for their advice, generous support and wise guidance.