Brian Groombridge’s professional contribution as an adult educator spans an unusually comprehensive range of roles as a student, tutor, program organizer, center principal, researcher, broadcaster, communication pioneer, academic and, in retirement, active citizen. His career included spells as a researcher and deputy secretary of the National Institute of Adult Education, head of Educational Program Services of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, professor of Adult Education and director of the Department of Extra-Mural Studies at the University of London.
His international work helped to shape the European Broadcasting Union’s adult education programming, through which he was able to develop close links with Finnish university adult education; the University of Helsinki awarded him an honorary degree. Later work with the Finnish Institute in London led to the award of Knight of the White Rose of Finland in 1990. He was a member of the planning committee of the Open University, the major post-war educational innovation for adults, and sat on the government policy inquiry into adult education chaired by Sir Lionel Russell. In 1992, the Open University also awarded him an honorary degree and summarized his contribution as “association with innovation, and particularly innovation in communication.” Before he retired, he contributed to the European Space Agency’s understanding of the potential uses of satellite technology for adult education. He continues to impact on public policy—most recently through work on a government study on mental well-being.
Groombridge’s adult education career began in earnest with creative periods as warden/principal of two independent adult education centers—at Letchworth and Rugby in England. He took his experience there of the value of education for older people to the National Institute of Adult Education where he researched and published “Education and Retirement” in 1960. After a period of consumer affairs research (including the educational use of public libraries), he returned to NIAE as deputy secretary, building bridges with providers across the system. He combined that with freelance educational broadcasting, and was then appointed head of Educational Services of the Independent Broadcasting Authority.
Groombridge’s appointment as head of Educational Program Services at the Independent Broadcasting Authority contributed to a flowering of adult learning activities on the (then) 15 independent ITV companies’ schedules, which he oversaw (though the companies were commercial, they had to comply with Public Broadcasting Standards - hence they were allowed EBU membership). He thought broadcasting was especially important because it engaged audiences who found attending classes inhibiting and forbidding. His IBA experience was one reason why the University of London appointed him to lead the largest extra-mural program in the UK. He also enabled the staff there to play a larger part in determining the department’s policy (a basic commitment he learned years before through the two educational centres). In fact he says that one of the joys of his career has been the opportunities it has given him to be a learner. That certainly applied when he co-founded the U3A (University of the 3rd Age) in the UK and became the first chairman of the ‘U3A in London.’
After retirement he has continued to write, to organize and to campaign for the rights of adults, bringing flair and distinction to everything he does. He co-planned Brighton’s national arts festival in 2006; that year it focused on older people and he gave a keynote lecture about the arts and learning in later life. He has helped turn the Educational Centres Association (the centers where his work began were ECA members) into a formidable advocacy body; and argued tirelessly for 50 years on behalf of older learners, and continues to influence public policy in his 80s. He participated in a variety of roles in the UK Government’s “Better Government for Older People” initiative.
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