The long view on lifelong learning 

By Barbara Black

It was his clear vision that got Noel Burke the job. When he was presented last spring as a candidate for dean of the School of Extended Learning, he showed his familiarity with the territory.

Noel Burke in front of one of the posters created by a graphic artist who captured the discussion at the SEL’s visioning session. Magnifying glass

Noel Burke in front of one of the posters created by a graphic artist who captured the discussion at the SEL’s visioning session.

“We spend a lot of time shaving the corners off square pegs instead of creating square holes,” Burke said. “This isn’t getting students in by the back door. It’s opening another front door that fits them better.”

Conceived by former Provost Martin Singer, the School was intended to embrace credit and not-credit courses, including those offered online and off-campus, and serve the special needs of independent, mature and visiting students.

Now in its first year, it comprises the Centre for Continuing Education and the Student Transition Centre, which is running a new STEPUP program to support at-risk students. (See ClassAction).

The Student Transition Centre is expanding the mandate of the former Mature Students Centre to include services for students who don’t yet qualify for admission, those having difficulty with their studies, and those who leave the university but are in good academic standing.

The School is addressing a key niche: the 5,000 students who are annually refused entry to the programs they applied for. Many of these students will have enrolled in other institutions, but others could be full-fledged Concordia students with the right preparation and support. The faculties will be consulted on how to address their needs, such as with language skills, study skills, or prerequisites.

When we met, Burke had come fresh from a successful visioning session on Oct. 28 that drew 75 people from across the university. He was always keen about the concept of the School.

“It’s a brilliant idea,” he said. “It’s a way to extend the university into the community, and for the Faculties to extend themselves to students, and students to extend their learning. Such extension leads to increased accessibility and a better pool of applicants.

He is well placed to understand the key role the School can play in the community, having been assistant deputy minister for the English-speaking community in the Ministère de l’éducation. He has wasted no time in applying for grants, including one from the federal government for research in minority-language (in this case, English) communities.

Independent, international and senior audit students will come under the rubric of the SEL, and eventually, Burke sees the SEL becoming a Faculty of Lifelong Learning. With its legacy of Sir George Williams University’s roots in night school, “Concordia’s personality is a perfect match for the field. It’s a natural fit.”

For now, his mandate is to establish the School within the university, provide programming that embodies accessibility, and identify niche markets. He’s looking for collaboration, good faith, enthusiasm, resources, and a willingness to take risks. He feels the kind of investment the School represents will yield better students and greater success rates in the long run.

At the end of January, there will be another daylong session to begin a three-year strategic plan for the School by February or March. Those interested in participating can contact his office at ext. 5426.


Concordia University