Professor Ron Barnett

Life-wide education: a new and transformative concept for higher education?

Ronald Barnett, Institute of Education, University of London


If lifelong learning is learning in that occupies different spaces through the lifespan – ‘from cradle to grave’ – life-wide learning is learning in different spaces simultaneously.  Such an idea of life-wide learning throws into high relief issues precisely of spaciousness – of authorship, power, and boundedness; for characteristically, pursued in different places under contrasting learning conditions, the various learning experiences will be seen to exhibit differences in authorship, power and boundedness, as well as in other ways.  In turn, such a conception of life-wide learning suggests a concept of liquid learning, a multiplicity of forms of learning and thence of being experienced by the learner contemporaneously.  This concept – of life-wide learning – poses in turn profound questions as to the learning responsibilities of universities: do they not have some responsibility towards the totality of the students’ learning experiences?  Does not the idea of life-wide education open here, as a transformative concept for higher education?  In sum, the idea of life-wide education promises – or threatens – to amount to a revolution in the way in which the relationship between universities, learners and learning is conceived.







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Ron Barnett is Emeritus Professor of Higher Education at the Institute of Education, University of London.  He is a recognized authority on the conceptual and theoretical understanding of the university and higher education. He has held senior positions at the Institute of Education, including that of Pro-Director for Longer Term Strategy and was also, for seven years, a Dean.  He is a past Chair of the Society for Research into Higher Education, and has recently served as a Special Adviser to the House of Commons Select Committee Inquiry into Universities and Students.  He is a Fellow both of the Higher Education Academy and the Society for Research into Higher Education and is currently Senior Research Consultant with SCEPTrE.  He has been awarded a higher doctorate of the University of London and was the recipient of the inaugural ‘Distinguished Researcher’ prize of the European Association for Institutional Research (EAIR).  Three of his many books, several of which have won prizes, Realizing the University in an age of supercomplexityEngaging the Curriculum in Higher Education (with Kelly Coate, 2005) and A will to Learn: being a student in an age of uncertainty (2007) have had an important influence on SCEPTrE’s work and the idea of life-wide learning and life-wide curriculum. 


SCEPTrE Life Achievement Award 2010

SCEPTrE would like to acknowledge the enormous contribution that Professor Ron Barnett has made to developing understanding of what a higher education means and his visions of an engaging higher education curriculum that fosters the will to be and become.




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