We note with regret the passing of Derek Legge, lifetime member of NIACE and founder of Manchester University’s pioneering Department of Adult Education.
After working for the Army Education Corps during the war, Derek worked as an extra-mural tutor in north-east Lancashire before his appointment to Manchester University’s School of Education as lecturer in adult education – the first such post to be created in Western Europe.
Derek devised a programme of postgraduate courses which, at first, attracted just 14 students but which, within a few years, were drawing hundreds of students, many from overseas. A hugely influential and ambitious department of adult education grew up, with Derek as its head.
One of Derek’s students was a young Canadian adult educator, Paul Bélanger, who went on to become Director of UNESCO’s Institute for Lifelong Learning. He recalls his classmates as ‘a bunch of activists’, including a trade unionist working in the mines in Wales, a woman who set up adult education centres in Pakistan and a Tanzanian adult educator involved in the Ujamaa movement of Julius Nyerere.
‘Derek catalyzed all these experiences,’ he says, ‘and brought us in contact with the rich British history of adult education, from the Women’s Institute to Ruskin College, from Raymond Williams to Richard Hoggart’. The 10-week course enabled him ‘to join the world movement for the right of all citizens on all continents to learn and create.’
‘The roll-call of students who benefited reads like a Who’s Who in world adult education,’ says Graham Wilkinson, a former student who went on to become Principal of Alston Hall Residential College in Lancashire. Many, like Graham, became lifelong friends.
The example of Derek’s department was copied elsewhere, with Liverpool and Nottingham among the universities to become interested in training and educating people to be adult educators. His own department grew to be the largest of its kind in the country.
Derek retired in 1978 but continued his association with adult education, involving himself in learning activities of all kinds, including extensive work in prisons. In 1982 he published a book, The Education of Adults in Britain, which became compulsory reading for any student of the subject.
In 1999, he was awarded an MBE for his services to adult education, in addition to an honorary degree from Manchester University and life membership of NIACE.
Derek died on 5 April, a few weeks short of his 96th birthday. He is survived by his daughter, Angela.