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Institute of Continuing Education (ICE)


Celebrating 150 years as a pioneer in continuing education


In mid-1800s England, the breakneck scientific and societal change of a second Industrial Revolution was in full flow. But the opportunities and affluence it created were reserved for a privileged minority.

Aware of the growing inequality, a group of Victorian social reformers argued for fair access to education, irrespective of gender or wealth, so that every person could play a meaningful role in society.

Two women, the educationalist and suffragist Anne Clough and the feminist and campaigner Josephine Butler, lobbied the University of Cambridge to provide learning opportunities for women at the urban heart of the Industrial Revolution. James Stuart, a radical young academic, answered their call.

From 1867, Stuart delivered heavily oversubscribed lectures for women across northern England, lighting the fire of a new open access higher education movement. It would be another six years before the University officially sanctioned a new Local Lectures Syndicate.  The first official Cambridge-led extramural lectures were delivered across the East Midlands in the autumn of 1873.

Subsequently, a dynamic group of Cambridge academics established classrooms in libraries and town halls up and down the country.  The adult students co-created the agenda, with courses encompassing the arts and sciences and applied topics.  These learning communities, formed of women and men drawn from all walks of life, were an open door to intellectual enrichment and vocational opportunities.  In time, the groups would help shape new university colleges throughout England, from Exeter to Sheffield.

Now, 150 years on, a digitally inspired fourth Industrial Revolution is underway. The lifelong learning sector is now global, striving to support people of all backgrounds through another period of rapid change. Traditional universities and online platforms offer innovative, increasingly accessible opportunities to learn flexibly and achieve personal goals, promoting social justice.

We are proud that the pioneering story of Clough, Butler and Stuart is our story, the birth of the Institute of Continuing Education. Having celebrated our 150th anniversary during the 2022-23 academic year, the Institute remains a constant advocate for accessible, engaging and progressive forms of innovative higher education for any motivated adult learner.

Article: New book to mark 150 years of ICE

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