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  • Reply to: Professor John Field (with special comment section)   1 week 3 days ago

    Leicester Vaughan College is very saddened to hear of the loss of John Field.  John was a leading figure in the world of adult learning and of educational opportunity for all. He stood with us in the campaign against the closure of Leicester University's adult education provision, and supported the new Leicester Vaughan College from the start, including contributing to our Research Forum. We will remember him with admiration and affection as a champion of adult learning. 

  • Reply to: Professor John Field (with special comment section)   2 weeks 5 days ago

    With Tom Schuller's approval and that of the editor of Convergence, Professor Peter Mayo, we reproduce here Tom's memories of John. 


    John Field (1949-2024)

    The ‘Learning Professor’

    Tom Schuller

    John Field and I met as founding members of Warwick University’s Department of Continuing Education, in autumn 1985. John had both

    substantial personal experience of adult education, as a mature student himselfand then with a 7-year spell as lecturer in economic and social history at Northern College, and a PhD in the subject which he had completed several years before. I had neither the personal experience nor the doctorate, but John never made any attempt to assert his better qualifications. He was to me, as to everyone else who worked with him, a rigorous but wholly sympathetic colleague.

    John was a historian by training and by inclination. The training is clear: a degree in history from Portsmouth, then the PhD at Warwick combined with a professional job teaching history to adults. The doctorate was on training and unemployment in the first part of the 20th century (published as Learning through Labour: training, unemployment and the state, 1890-1939, Leeds University 1992), and this period continued to engage his attention: thirty years after the PhD he published a book on the same historical period, this time on work camps (Working Men’s Bodies: work camps in Britain, 1880-1939, Manchester University Press, 2013). Although for the bulk of his career his professional home was in the education of adults, he maintained a disciplinary historian’s eye.

    His career took him to different parts of the United Kingdom. I’d guess there aren’t many academics who have worked in three of the four nations: after Warwick, John went to Bradford in the North of England, then across the sea to the University Ulster and eventually, after another spell at Warwick - this time as professor of lifelong learning – up to Scotland to the University of Stirling, where as well as holding a chair in lifelong learning he was the Deputy Principal for Research and Knowledge Transfer. I’m not sure what Wales did to miss out on his talents. In each case he was sensitive to the national or regional preoccupations. One thing common to all these locations is that they gave easy access to hills, or at least countryside, as John was a keen walker.

    But his reach extended well beyond the UK. Indeed, possibly John’s single most outstanding characteristic was his pervasive internationalism. This was not the weary much-travelled cosmopolitan variety, but a genuine belief that we should understand other cultures and traditions. He was unusually (for an Englishman) proficient in German and French, and spent some time actually teaching in Cologne. He would constantly remind us, personally or at professional meetings, of these different perspectives, intellectual and political.There will be colleagues and friends in many different countries who are mourning his loss.

    The list of John’s mainstream academic duties and positions is impressive. Positions on editorial boards, on advisory panels and on research assessment. reviews are too numerous to mention. I would just highlight John’s 5-year stint as a Governor of Newbattle Abbey in Scotland and his membership ofForesight groups in the UK and the EU. He acted as PhD examiner in some 30 universities – a remarkable tally; the news of his death brought immediate tributes from some of those whose theses he had examined, as a rigorous but entirely sympathetic scholar. He engaged extensively in policy forums and committees without ever losing his academic identity.

    Work on social capital was one of the major themes of John’s writing. I enjoyed working with him and Stephen Baron as co-editors on an early book on the topic, published in 2001. John went on himself to write a very successful book on social capital, published in 2003 and translated into Italian and Turkish (and maybe other languages). It’s a sign of its success, and of its quality, that it was republished five years later in a fully revised edition. Many would regard it, in educational circles, as the standard work on the topic.

    I was personally delighted to have John as member of the Inquiry into the Future of Lifelong Learning, sponsored by NIACE in 2008-10. John was always a perceptive and constructive member of the Inquiry, often contributing to the discussion with a slightly quizzical air but always with something that would give energy to the discussion. Similarly we worked together on the third UNESCO Global Review of Lifelong Education around 2015, where John’s international range of experience combined with his research expertise made him a very valuable participant.

    John carried on his reading and writing up to his untimely death. He blog posted as The Learning Professor, a nice reaffirmation that each individual carries on learning, or should do so, whatever their status. Lately his communications were more often to do with rugby matches, on which he would offer commentary as rigorous and objective as his adult education scholarship. A generous, vigorous man who exemplified the value of lifelong learning.

  • Reply to: Professor John Field (with special comment section)   3 weeks 2 days ago

    As colleagues have said John was a leading figure in the world of adult learning. He was always a stimulating and supportive member of the Universities Association for Lifelong Learning (UALL) and his publications were widely and warmly cited by our members and conference speakers. We remember his multi-talented character and wide sphere of knowledge, and of course his indefatigable good humour.

  • Reply to: Professor John Field (with special comment section)   3 weeks 6 days ago

    I first met John Field when he was at Northern College and I was at the nearby Sheffield City Polytechnic, and we were working together to explore how we could better support adult learning. He was a regular visitor to my house in the early days of the miners strike where we had regular meetings to review and reflect on what was happening in our communities.

    I kept in touch with him as he filled several roles; indeed I was one tor his successors at the University of Bradford. He was always active in adult learning forums both domestically and internationally, but more importantly he was a really supportive colleague who would question, critique and help, always with a wonderful cheeky grin. He was a colossus in our field of study and a person you always wanted around you and the shaper  of many an academic career.

    This is a really sad loss and we will all miss him

    Geoff Layer, Formerly Vice Chancellor at the University of Wolverhampton

  • Reply to: Professor John Field (with special comment section)   4 weeks 11 hours ago

    Northern College, the 'Ruskin of the North', was first mooted sixty years ago  - 1964 - in 'The Royal Oak' pub at Millthorpe in North Derbyshire, just across the road from where Edward Carpenter had his socialist commune until the early 1920s, his house now being called 'Carpenter House'. So said Michael Barratt Brown, first Principal of Northern College, twenty five years after it opened to adult students in October 1978. I was one of the first year of students, and John Field was one of the tutors. After the first intake came to an end in June 1980, I subsequently saw John at several revived CND events in Sheffield, one notably being addressed by Edward Thompson at Sheffield City Hall, until a bomb scare caused the building to be evacuated. I next saw John at the Northern College twenty fifth anniversary in July 2003.

    Earlier in 2024 I read Michael Barratt Brown's autobiographical book (2013), 'Seekers', and I came across a review by John Field which was appreciative, though critical of Michael's tendency to name-drop. I agreed entirely with that criticism, and I found John's e-mail address and, early in March 2024, I told him of this agreement. I was amazed when he not only promptly replied, but said he had a flat at Hangingwater in Sheffield, not far from where I live. He'd lived in Whitby for many happy years but found it a bit hard on his knees of late. At the same time he mentioned 'family' in Edinburgh. Coffee seemed to be a good idea, so I arranged a meeting on Thursday morning, 14th March - myself, Linda Whitehead (another Northern College 1978er who lives in Sheffield), and my partner, Leah, who John crossed paths with during Sheffield Peace Movement days when both lived in Pitsmoor. He didn't turn up - he said he got stuck in traffic whilst travelling south from Edinburgh that morning. We rearranged for the following Tuesday morning, 19th March, this time at a cafe called 'Marmaduke's' on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield. Leah absented herself because of a cough, so it was just me and Linda - and this time John turned up. We all had a good chat about Northern College days and Northern College people. Subsequently, on Sunday  24th March  I sent out a general e-mail to Northern College contacts, including John, to try to arrange another meeting. This was a slightly tongue-in-cheek e-mail titled,' The Northern College Corresponding Society', a play on the corresponding societies discussed in Edward Thompson's 'The Making of the English Working Class'. I found it odd that John didn't reply, after his prompt e-mail responses previously.

    Sadly and shockingly, I now know why he didn't reply. My condolences go out to all his friends, family and colleagues.