17-19 OCTOBER 1997
Dublin / Ireland

14th eucen Conference | Encouraging Creativity and Innovation in University CE
The 14th eucen European Conference took place in October 1997 in Dublin (IE).

-Introduction to the Conference: Fostering Creativity and Innovation Through Continuing Education
John Field, University of Warwick

In our modern societies, originality and creative talent are prized as rarely before. The routine application of old knowledge, behaviours based on custom and obedience are of steadily diminishing relevance. So it would seem, at least, from the growing number of attempts to define and promote the merits of a learning society.

Thus in setting out its plans for education and training policies after the year 2000, the European Commission emphasised that:

"Economic competitiveness, employment and the personal fulfilment of the citizens of Europe is no longer mainly based on the production of physical goods, nor will it be in the future. Real wealth creation will henceforth be linked to the production and dissemination of knowledge and will depend first and foremost on our efforts in the field of research education and training and on our capacity to promote innovation."
(Commission of the European Communities 1997: 1) 

The Commission linked this process to the aim of developing lifelong learning, a goal which was incorporated into the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997. Similar views are increasingly influential in many European societies. The new Government appointed an advisory committee on lifelong learning, whose first report argues vividly for a 'learning culture' that will: 'Stimulate achievement, encourage creativity, provide and enhance skills, contribute to the development of knowledge itself, enhance cultural and leisure pursuits and underpin citizenship and independent living' (Fryer 1997: 29)     

In a world characterised by radical and far-reaching transformations in every sphere of life, as well as by a pervasive sense of uncertainty and risk, the advisory committee insists that the aim can be nothing less than a 'cultural revolution' in society's management of its learning.

These are ambitious proposals, with potentially far-reaching. The aim of eucen's Dublin Conference was to consider how the universities might contribute to innovation through the range of continuing education programmes they offer. This in itself posed a radical challenge to eucen and its members: for most people, these are relatively new issues. almost by definition, there are few established ideas or proven solutions to problems which we have only just started to discern. Indeed as Raymond Thomson forcefully reminded delegates in Dublin, much existing university continuing education may even -albeit, more by neglect than intention- contribute towards the very problems of passivity and uncritical acceptance which the conference sought to tackle.

If the topic was timely, it also felt right that we were debating creativity and innovation in the city of Dublin. The Republic of Ireland in recent decades has been one of Europe's few unambiguous success stories. it has experienced a dramatic level of economic growth, often fuelled by the explosion of employment in high tech and leading edge industries, acquiring the nickname of the 'Celtic Tiger' (typically, this nickname is the source of much self-mocking humour within Ireland itself). Ironically, as Roger Fox showed in his analysis of labour market training in Ireland, economic success may have benefited hugely from the high attainment levels of Irish school-leavers; but it has not yet been accompanied by any major growth in continuing education and training.

The so-called 'cultural industries' have also been an important part of this economic success story. Modern Ireland has witnessed some remarkable achievements not only in such well-established fields as literature and music, but also in newer fields of film and design. Moreover, many of Ireland's leading cultural figures have also managed to address the problems which have accompanied the thriving economy: extremes of wealth and poverty, for instance, or growing threats of environmental degradation. These issues also formed an important theme of the conference, neatly encapsulated in Mairtin O Fathaigh's account of the work of University College, Cork in seeking to work in disadvantaged communities on the northside of the city. Other speakers and workshop leaders emphasised the synergy between the arts and other, more conventional fields of continuing education such as management development or the new communications technologies.

In a number of ways, then, this conference marked a turning point. For eucen, it was the first time that a conference has been devoted primarily to the arts and cultural industries Judging by the comments of delegates, most found this stimulating and indeed challenging. It was also the first time that a European conference on university continuing education had been held on the island of Ireland. In certain fields, such as community development, the third level institutions in Ireland have a well-established interest in continuing education; in some others, we found that we could learn from experience elsewhere in Europe.

Finally, it is not every day that a University in Northern Ireland is able to host an international conference in the Republic of Ireland. As the conference was all about facing an uncertain future with confidence, it is a pleasure to record that the organisers learned a great deal about creativity and innovation, if not always in ways that we might have anticipated.

In organising the conference, we of course received invaluable assistance from others. As well as the speakers, we particularly would like to express our gratitude for the guidance and practical support of Caroline Cox (UCD), Kevin Hurley (UCD), Patricia-Ann Moore (University of Limerick), Mikael Schnurer (University of Orebo), and the many colleagues who chaired sessions or took on other responsibilities during the conference.


Commission of the European Communities (1997). Towards a Europe of Knowledge Office for Official Publications, Luxembourg.

Fryer, RH (1997). Learning for the Twenty-first Century: first report of the National Advisory Group for Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning. Department for Education and Employment, Sheffield.
Link to the papers presented during the conference:

-The universities and continuing education in Ireland: An Assessment - Rob Mark (Queen's University Belfast, UK)
-Culture, creativity and learning - Bill Williamson (University of Durham, UK)
-Social inclusion and the university - Mairtin O'Fathaingh (University College Cork, IE)
-Continuing vocational training in Ireland - Roger Fox (FAS, IE)
-Jon F Baldwin (University of Wolverhampton, UK)