Leading by learning - Loyd Grossman

Published: 25 Jul 2012 09:300 comments

FOR broadcaster, entrepreneur and serial student, Loyd Grossman, the pursuit of knowledge is a lifelong commitment and an enduring passion. Now in his 62nd year, he is coming to the end of the first 12-months of a PhD in the history of art at Cambridge University.

At Wellington College on June 23, at The Sunday Times Festival of Education, in Crowthorne, Mr Grossman gave a talk entitled: 'It's all about not knowing (and other thoughts on lifelong learning)'.

With the altar of the college's Victorian chapel as the backdrop, Loyd Grossman was simultaneously relaxed and animated. He said: "I am greatly inspired by the American philosopher, John Dewey, who said: 'Education is not a preparation for life, education is life itself.' Learning is something I believe in and it is the reason why I have continued my own higher education experiences throughout my adult life."

Having graduated from Boston University with a BA in history in his youth, Loyd moved to the UK to do a postgraduate degree at the London School of Economics, after which, he said: "I decided to stay here for a number of reasons, one of which was the opportunity for continued learning. I feel very lucky that I have been able to experience higher education on both sides of the Atlantic.

"Continuously learning new things and being challenged, and stimulated by them is incredibly exciting. It is for this reason that I went back for my third stint as a student, this time to the University of Cambridge, where I completed an MPhil in art history and am now finishing the first year of my PhD.

"It seems that education is something we do to children then they go off into the world. Education is too good for children. Of course we must prepare people to become surgeons, bankers, architects and so on, but there needs to be continuity. I am worried that people over 30 feel that university education is not for them. This is madness, especially as we become an older population and people are pursuing second, third and fourth careers and are so interested in the people around them. Over the age of 30 the number of university students in this country declines and the number of full-time students over the age of 60 is 1,420. This is an exclusive group but there are over 35,000 people doing part-time university courses. For the first time in our history there are more people over the age of 60 than there are under 16. The media talks all about what we will do with all these ageing people, as if we are doomed to some kind of terrible shipwreck of geriatrics and social care, but think about the pleasure, purpose and meaning that education can bring to the lives of older people, and, in turn, what these alumni can give back in terms of financial support. Universities have to remember that these establishments are for people of all ages. The biggest impediment to embarking on something new, to people of my age, is fear. Some may be put off by uncertainty about what the experience would be like, or even filling in the forms, but these are irrational fears when you know how welcoming universities are.

"Britain is an absolute world leader in higher education. It is no coincidence that it is one of the most popular destinations for overseas students and has a disproportionate number of universities in the world's 'Top 100' in all the major global rankings.

"I am committed to continuous education for everyone. Education is about discovering more about the world and the people around you; the more you know, the more you question and interrogate and the more fascinating things become.

"I implore our universities to take advantage of older people and ensure that education is not wasted entirely on young people. It is about cost, but not about value. There is never a sensible or rational discussion about value and there is no such thing as free university education."

But, addressing retired people, Loyd said: "When income is dropping, you may rule out university for cost reasons, but look on the bright side, you will probably die before you pay off the loan!"

Fittingly, as chairman of the Churches Conservation Trust, the talk took place in the Grade II listed chapel, built in 1863 by Sir George Gilbert Scott. The chapel needs a £750,000 restoration and Mr Grossman described it as a "fabulous building". He said: "Buildings like this are part of our heritage. Either we see this as a burden or a source of richness and inspiration."

What Mr Grossman omitted to say in his interesting, amusing and animated talk was the importance of 'older-learners' as inspirational role models to the younger generations. Bravo to that man for leading by example.

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