Sue Waddington has been an adult education practitioner, lecturer, manager, and policy maker since the late 1960s. Her immense contributions to the field, specifically policy making, have transformed adult education policy in the United Kingdom.
Waddington first entered the field as a tutor for the new Open University in the UK. She subsequently initiated a new community education and development project on a large disadvantaged housing estate in Leicester, which still thrives today. In the 1980s, she ran a successful regional project for the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) to develop learning opportunities for unemployed adults. In 2000, she joined NIACE as European director where she initiated work with and for refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, leading several large transnational European projects to develop adult learning for these groups, and contributed to new European policies to recognise and value prior learning acquired outside formal EU systems. An active supporter of the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA), she served two terms as president, beginning in 2008, and led the organization in building credibility, effectiveness, and sustainability as a respected advocate for adult learning across Europe and the voice of civil society.
Waddington excelled at extending adult learning opportunities to groups previously excluded from participation, including those whose initial education failed to provide them with basic skills, the long-term unemployed, marginalized groups experiencing social and economic exclusion, and migrants. She has developed programs, undertaken research, set up partnerships, gained grants, developed new approaches, and produced policy recommendations to address the barriers to learning experienced by these groups. Her work has resulted in new opportunities at local, regional, national, and European levels.
Waddington’s greatest contribution to the field may be her work to build EAEA into a successful civil society organization by influencing policy and programs for adult learning at the European level. During her presidency, EAEA flourished by increasing its standing with the EU institutions, gaining new resources to provide additional services to members, undertaking new strategic projects, and producing policy and research publications to influence practitioners and decision makers. Her intercultural understanding and intimate knowledge of the EU brought together adult educators and decision makers and shaped the organization as the main voice of advocacy for adult education in Europe. Her inclusive leadership style enabled and encouraged staff, executive board members, and member organizations to develop their own knowledge and contributions to the EAEA’s policies, projects, advocacy work, and publications.
Waddington has published widely on adult education. Her work for NIACE as the European director led to her publishing a range of research, policy papers, and recommendations to improve the learning opportunities for migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. Within the European Parliament she was given the position as rapporteur for lifelong learning because she was able to demonstrate that adult education was relevant to a range of European employment and social issues, women’s rights, economic development, and social protection.
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