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Institute of Continuing Education (ICE)

Portrait of ICE founder James Stuart

Next year marks 150 years since the Local Lectures Syndicate started the official story of ICE. As part of the celebrations, Prof. Mark Freeman, UCL Historian and co-editor of the History of Education journal, will publish a new book documenting the last 50 years of the Institute. We spoke to Mark to find out more. 

It was 1873 when the University of Cambridge authorised James Stuart to create the Local Lectures Syndicate, although the origins of that moment can be traced back to the pioneering work of Anne Clough and Josephine Butler. Clough and Butler were suffragists who helped establish the North of England Council for Promoting the Higher Education of Women, for which Stuart was commissioned to lecture in 1867. It was the incredible success of these lectures that led to Cambridge sanctioning the university extension movement, helmed by Stuart. These first beginnings, and the 100 years that followed, are described in a history produced to mark ICE’s centenary in 1973. Now, ICE’s recorded timeline is getting an update.

What aspects of ICE’s history will your book cover? 

My book follows on from Edwin Welch’s (The Peripatetic University: Cambridge Local Lectures 1873—1973) to cover the last 50 years of the Institute, focusing particularly on the public programmes. Welch’s book is an institutional history in the old style, concentrating on the leaders and the organisation. It’s a good book, but I want to think about who the students were, what they learned and what was happening in classrooms, as well as the whole range of activities that go on in an educational institution like this. I want to capture a portrait of what the place was like. 

What are the challenges of writing such a modern history? 

Any history is a product of its time, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In 50 years’ time, I’m sure my book will have aged in the same way that Welch’s centenary history has. 

While I relish the chance to study the recent years of an institution, writing a very contemporary history can be a challenge. For one thing, there are many people still around to put me right if I get something wrong! But that presents an opportunity to hear some great oral history – I’ve already interviewed lots of people, both students and staff members, current and former. 

I can also situate my own experience in it because I was born when ICE was 101 years old and, having worked in universities for the past 22 years, I’m familiar with much of the wider context. A lot of the debates resonate with factors my own universities have wrestled with, such as funding pressures and accreditation.  

When did ICE become connected to Madingley Hall? 

Cambridge University acquired Madingley Hall (built as a hunting lodge and grand residence in the mid-1500s) in 1948, and the Board of Extra-Mural Studies, as ICE was known, used it for residential courses from time to time. In the 1970s, the Board realised it needed somewhere to be able to grow its residential course provision, which had becoming increasingly important, and Madingley seemed the ideal choice. They received a significant grant from the Dart Foundation that helped fund the necessary amendments to the building – for example, to accommodate office staff. 

Now, of course, ICE and Madingley Hall are seen as closely tied together and, over the years, the Hall has helped provide the Cambridge experience for students – dinner in the Hall, the lovely gardens to walk around, a collegiate feeling, and so on. 

What has influenced change over the last 50 years? 

Continuing education has often had to be more responsive to the market, I think, than post-18 education, even in the 60s and 70s. 

One of the key agents of change for all continuing education institutions over the last 50 years has been the external funding environment: reductions in core funding in the 1980s, the reshaping of the programme as funding became tied to the credit frameworks in the 1990s and the withdrawal of funding, effectively, from ELQ (Equivalent or Lower Qualifications) provision at the end of the 2000s. To some, these factors have changed the mission of continuing education. 

However, that change provides an opportunity for ICE too: burgeoning certificate programmes, the arrival of Master’s degrees, increasing numbers of international students and growth in professional development courses, for example. And, of course, one consequence of Covid-19 has been the accelerated expansion of online learning taking the Cambridge brand across the world. 

Some things have remained constant, though, not least the summer programmes that go back to the 1920s. They’re bigger now, but they’ve remained important to the Institute and its global profile. 

ICE has always catered for a range of different needs and students, though, so while there have been changes, I think there’s also been quite a lot of continuity as well. 

Would James Stuart recognise his legacy in ICE today? 

I don’t think he would have anticipated the globalisation we’ve experienced, but in terms of lifelong learning and what we now call professional development, I think Stuart would be very comfortable with what he’d find at ICE today. Although the phrase ‘lifelong learning’ itself would have been unknown to him, and he’d be amazed by the diversity of the learning community and the global stage on which most programmes are now performed.  

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