Perspective: Losing a Just a Little Richness in Education

Article excerpt

Byline: Chris Upton

I 've long nourished the idea of running an evening class on the history of food. Over the course of 19 weeks the class would chomp their way through the Romans (rotten fish sauce) up to the Victorians (chops and curry), and in the final class we would dine on 2,000 years of history. I had even prepared the bibliography and list of essential equipment (cutlery and trencher). This idea can now be safely deposited in the pedal-bin of lost dreams. Two weeks ago the University of Birmingham announced its decision to scrap its evening classes and concentrate solely on summer schools and residential courses.

The writing has been on the wall for a long time. Each year, it seemed, the old Extramural Department changed its name, shrank its range of courses and increased the number of students needed before a course could run. The move from Winterbourne, its rambling Victorian home on Edgbaston Park Road, was probably the beginning of the end. I taught on a number of such evening classes over the years. For two years I ran a beginners' course in Latin, attended mainly by people who wanted to do some local history research or were determined to get over the mental block, created when they did the subject at school. Then there was a course on New Testament Greek, with as varied a clientele as you could imagine. There was a clergyman, a trainee priest, an enthusiast for holidays in Zacynthos and a Jamaican woman who wanted to be able to confront the Jehovah's Witnesses on her doorstep by quoting from the original text.

I sat on the other side of the desk too, studying the Old English language and sharing a table with a physiotherapist, a member of the Sealed Knot and countless retired ladies from Edgbaston and Harborne. …