Who is behind the Free University Network?
Joel Lazarus and Sarah Amsler are academics who have initated the Sustaining Alternative Universities conference through the Free University Network.
Having completed his PhD at Oxford University last year, Joel Lazarus now teaches international relations and political economy at various universities. He is one of the instigators of the Political and Economic Literacy Project, set to be piloted with six community learning groups this Autumn. Alongside Neil Howard, Joel also produces and presents the Positive Politics Podcast in which he and Neil explore an important issue through a combination of analysis, interviews, and music.
Sarah is a Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Lincoln, and a member of the Social Science Centre, Lincoln.
What is the Free University Network?
It was early in 2012 when Joel first noticed how ‘free’ universities were setting up independently across the UK. He thought it made sense to bring the people behind them together to meet and share experiences and ideas. Around 40 people came together in a church hall in Birmingham in April 2012 to do just that. This led Joel and Sarah to consider organising a conference with far more concrete aims built around the central theme and goal of sustainability. Each free university faces huge challenges in sustaining itself and flourishing as an organisation.
The Sustaining Alternative Univerisities conference, to be held in Oxford on 1st and 2nd of December, will be structured around a three-step process of exploring history, engaging in dialogue and developing practice that is designed to generate concrete, practical plans for sustaining and growing their commitments to popular, democratic education both as individuals and organisations.
Why are we holding this conference?
In the depths of economic, environmental and social ‘crisis’, education and educators are facing intense attack by those seeking to accelerate the commodification of education of all forms. If we who are committed and devoted to furthering and practicing free popular, democratic, socially transformative education are to be successful in our resistance to these attacks, we must come together. The fight to protect mainstream schools and universities remains central. However, the government’s removal of the Educational Maintenance Allowance and the tripling of university tuition fees has motivated some educators to find ways to create spaces of free, democratic education for as many people as possible. In addition, conditions of work intensification, managerial discipline and the commercialisation of knowledge within many formal universities is motivating others to create spaces in which other forms and purposes of higher learning can be nurtured. Hence, the emergence and growth of alternative free universities today. The Free University Network offers those involved in free, popular education to come together to resist commodification and to create the kind of educational alternatives they wish to see being open for all.