Since 2012, the University of Poitiers has been engaged in a citizen university approach, inspired by the tradition of German “Volkshochschulen” (adult education centers) that developed at the end of the 19th century. The citizen university project implies that the university should be a place open to all, irrespective of status (employee, unemployed, retiree…), level of education (no need to have studied to take courses), social class, age, etc.
Every citizen must have access to knowledge and critical thinking, in tune with research, that characterize university courses. The idea is therefore to create programs, actions that allow everyone to access knowledge, to share their own knowledge and experiences with students and teachers and to appropriate this knowledge and critical thinking for personal and collective emancipation. The citizen university is thus one of the challenges of the role that the university must play in the city, and more generally within its local area.
The fundamental political challenge is to enable as many citizens as possible to understand that the University is not a separate place, a place disconnected from their daily concerns, from contemporary political, cultural, social and other issues, but a place of openness, where everyone can find their place and way of building themselves in thought, knowledge and relationships with others. Too many people think that these courses are not for them, that they are not “up to it”, are intimidated at the idea of entering this “temple of knowledge” that the university is supposed to be. In my opinion, the citizen university system will have borne these fruits when this image is called into question.
Courses open to the public
Since 2012, 300 courses (all levels, from 1st year to postgraduate degrees) have been opened free of charge each year by 200 teachers in all fields of university life (literature, law, sociology, history, physics, chemistry, mathematics, sports, etc.), this number is increasing; 500 citizens enrol in these courses, either for leisure or to obtain additional training related to their job or the job they aim to do.
Participants sit in the same auditorium or classroom seats as initial training students, on the Poitiers campus, in the city center, and some in Angoulême, Niort, etc. They can simply attend or take an active part in the course (participation in group work…)
These courses are also offered to University of Poitiers staff who are invited to attend one course per year, which is included in their professional activity.
On request, partnerships are built with organizations present in urban districts and rural areas based on participatory democracy approaches. Workshops, knowledge exchange, debates with audiences far from the university, around their daily concerns, are being set up with communities and associations (on themes such as youth and citizenship, school dropouts, family/school relations, housing). Philosophers, economists, sociologists, psychologists, for example, can propose their interpretation of such issues. Teachers, researchers, doctoral students are the transmission channels between the university and the population of the local area, to help people understand, decide and commit themselves to action.
Regardless of your status, academic level, geographical location, whether you come individually or with a group, the citizen university will offer you a new perspective on academics and the social utility of their work.