4 OCTOBER 1963, Page 7

Leisure to Learn

THE current issue of Where?, the quarterly magazine of the Advisory Centre for Edu- cation, contains the announcement of the set- ting up of a National Extension College which is to come into operation on January 1, 1964. The idea was first put forward a year ago, was influenced by experiments and work being done in America and has since been made more familiar to us in Mr. Harold Wilson's rather different plan for a University of the Air. It is aimed mainly at those who have not attended a formal university, but also at anyone who may wish to take up a new subject later in life. The courses range from Ordinary Level GCE to that of university degree, including a number of vocational subjects such as electronics and engineering. The college will work through correspondence courses, through radio and tele- vision and the telephone and most courses are likely to include a number of residential week- ends where students will be able to meet their tutors. There is even to be a special course in elementary radio engineering, working through a radio relay system, for long-term hospital patients.

All sorts of objections could be raised: to a possible inadequacy of standards (though the same issue of Where? contains a strongly argued case for the submission of correspondence col- leges to Ministry inspection); to the inevitable high fall-out rate; to the fact that a private initiative may encourage the Government to do less. They should be overlooked by the very real needs the college will provide for. Already there are estimated to be almost half a million people 'making use of correspondence colleges. In the next few years the number is bound to grow and will be supplemented by ever more Africans and Asians wishing to learn English and to take the university courses that will still not be available to them in their own countries. We have spent a lot of time recently talking about increasing affluence, about the development of mass communications, the opportunities for leisure and the need to re-train and develop new skill: The question in future is likely to be affluence and leisure for what? The National Extension College provides a constructive answer.