The 2019 conference of SCUTREA provides an opportunity for thinking about where adult learning research now stands, particularly in the UK. One friend and former colleague recently told me that compared with a decade ago, he thought the programme looked ‘a bit withered’.
It’s true that attendance has declined in recent years. But it’s still attracting a decent turn-out, with some thirty-five separate papers, a couple of workshops, a keynote, and a panel debate. By way of contrast, look at the contents page for the 1982 proceedings, which lists eleven papers.
There’s also a marked and very welcome gender shift, with most of the 2019 papers involving at least one female presenter; international researchers are a much more visible presence than in the earlier years. And although as a co-presenter I am of course biased, the 2019 programme looks much more lively and stimulating than the rather stodgy fare on offer in 1982.
So I guess it depends what dates you choose for your comparison. For the most part, adult learning is still a comparatively small part of the research community in most countries; seen from this perspective, the 2019 programme suggests a sub-area in reasonably good health, and with plenty to say for itself.
But maybe it’s time to revisit the name? Not just because it’s a strange and rather meaningless acronym, but more importantly because much valuable research is undertaken by people outside the university sector.
The 1982 papers