Sue Waddington has lead the work of EAEA the last four and a half years. She feels sad to leave the friends and colleagues, but is relieved that she will now have more time to explore Europe also outside meeting rooms. EAEA will get a new president this week's Thursday when the members gather for the General Assembly in Leicester, UK.
How would you describe your time as the EAEA President?
Exciting, interesting, challenging and a test of stamina!
I have been privileged to meet and discuss adult education and all its possibilities and achievements with a very wide range of people from different countries and backgrounds with different responsibilities at international, European, national and local levels.
The EAEA is the leading civil society organisation for adult education in Europe and it has been my responsibility to act as an advocate, especially for non-formal adult education, with decision makers in many different countries and forums.
At the same time I have enjoyed the support and friendship of the Board, staff and members of the EAEA in preparing for and delivering our messages at high level conferences and meetings and in policy papers and statements. We have learned to look for opportunities and to take the initiative to demonstrate that adult education does make a positive difference to peoples lives whether the discussion is about jobs, health, migration, active ageing, creativity, basic skills, environmental sustainability, the financial crisis or active citizenship.
What were your aims when you started as the EAEA President?
I had three main aims.
Firstly to improve the reputation of the organisation to ensure that our voice - the voice of European Adult Education´s most representative and democratic civil society NGO- should be heard and respected in the corridors of power.
Secondly to address the financial problems of the organisation and try to build financial security so that the EAEA could achieve more.
Thirdly to support our members and to enable member organisations to be more actively involved in the work of the EAEA.
How were these aims reached?
We have slowly but surely over the last few years become a highly respected organisation at the European level and have been given a place by the European Institutions in all discussions about European policies and programmes that relate to Adult Learning.
Regular and frequent meetings take place with Commissioners and Commission officials, MEPs and other relevant platforms. This is because we are able to demonstrate our knowledge of the issues under discussion and because we have regularly consulted our members about these issues and collected data and information to support our positions. A good example of our advocacy is the work of the EAEA in lobbying for improvements in the new Lifelong Learning Programme, Erasmus for All.
The financial position has improved because we gained three years of core funding from the European Commission and we have been successful in applying for a number of strategic projects. All this has required hard and detailed work by the staff and the Board.
Services to members have been improved in a number of ways. We now regularly consult members on issues, for example seeking their views on the Grundtvig programme, and we invite members to contribute to our publications and conferences to showcase examples of their work.
We hold annual conferences for members on topical issues, provide training for younger staff and adult educators in Europe, and regularly publish information about European issues and debates.
The improved financial position has enabled us to appoint a membership officer who has already sought the views of members on how we can further improve our services to meet members needs and interests.
However we still have some way to go to in increasing our membership in some areas of Europe and finding ways of supporting members especially those who are experiencing particular difficulties because of the financial crisis.
What is your biggest achievement during the presidency: what will you be remembered for?
I think this is for others to judge when the history is written. I hope that I was able to create a climate at the EAEA where everyone - staff, board and members - felt that they could contribute and that the atmosphere was conducive to building a strong, inclusive, successful and ambitious organisation where we effectively communicated our vision of the importance of adult education in very difficult times.
How does it feel to leave the EAEA?
I feel both sadness and relief! I will be very sad to say goodbye to friends and colleagues in the EAEA who I have worked with during these past few years and I will no doubt miss the buzz of the debates. However I will also enjoy more time to travel without having to prepare a speech or read a weighty pile of papers before I leave home- and when I arrive at my destination I´ll have time to see more than the inside of a meeting room.
How do you see the future of adult education?
EAEA Secretary-General Gina Ebner and I held a meeting with a high level Education and Culture Commission official last week in which he said that the spot light at European level had turned away from Higher Education to Vocational Education, but it had not yet reached Adult Education - although that time might come. So hopefully we can contribute towards that movement of the spot light. The forthcoming PIIAC report may help to concentrate minds on the need for more investment in certain areas of adult learning as might the recognised widespread need expressed by employers for an improvement in ‘soft skills´ in the labour market.
However while the wider benefits of adult learning to health, active ageing and citizenship, self confidence etc. are now evidenced by a variety of research findings there is still a need to campaign and fight for improvements in support for adult learning in many European countries including those where participation is low and dropping and where a narrow technical approach to adult learning is gaining ground.
How do you see the future of the EAEA?
The EAEA has begun an important debate about the impact of the financial crisis on adult education and the potential contribution adult education can make at a time of austerity and growing unemployment.
This debate will no doubt enable some powerful findings and recommendations to be produced which can be used to influence European policies and practises.
There is an expressed wish by the Commission to hear the voice of Civil Society and the EAEA is in a good position to make adult education voices heard.
There are clearly challenges ahead for the EAEA including those of ensuring a continued sound financial base, a sustainable staff group, a strong and active membership and a clear vision.
However next year the EAEA will be celebrating its 60th anniversary and this may be the time to remind ourselves and those we seek to influence, of the past, present and future purpose of adult learning as a tool for empowerment for ordinary people in extraordinary times.
What kind of advise would you like to give to your successor?
I would hesitate before offering the candidate any advise other than to enjoy the role, as I have. He is very experienced and able, and will have his own way of leading the EAEA.
Do you already have plans of what to do with the time that you previously devoted to the EAEA?
Firstly I have to write a long promised foreword for a book on adult education written by Paul Downes on Access to Education in Europe, and then an article for LLinE - Lifelong Learning in Europe on migration and adult education.
I will continue to work in Leicester as a City Councillor but I would like to use more of my time in exploring Europe as a traveller rather than as an attendee of meetings! I hope to see colleagues from the EAEA on my travels and that you keep in touch with me at the following email address susan.waddington(at)ntlworld.com.
Interview: Aura Vuorenrinne