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So, who is Chris Duke? 
By Chris Duke, himself

We thought Chris should speak for himself - he wrote this in 2019 (Duke & Hinzen, 2019)

The personal, professional and political – some respective confessionals

I worked for 50 years in and from universities in the United Kingdom and Australia as an activist scholar, adult educator, critic and champion of lifelong learning. Academic freedom and self-direction allowed him to hold senior office in international, regional and national professional and civil society organisations for adult learning and education and lifelong learning, building and using informal networks, from 1970 to now.


Childhood years

Looking back reveals what in early years mattered most for later life.

Growing up on a farm close by and beneath the London blitz in a

pacifist family taught that life is hard and that peace matters; also,

why it can be hard to stand for what is good, when appeasement

fails and the strong bold voice of Churchill provided the nation with

essential purpose through the traumatic cultural events of Dunkirk,

the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, and on to Victory in Europe (VE) Day.

It inspires some English ‘Leave Europe’ campaigners even today. My

fringe-dweller playmates, the children of casual farmer-labour

gypsies, were also a powerful force: one side of a cultural class

schism straddled by a poor scholarship kid going through selective State school to upper middle-class Cambridge. Different does not mean better or worse. Diversity is unsettling. It is also enriching and ecologically essential


A crucial factor looking back was German prisoners of war bussed from prison camp to work on the farm. They befriended this lone bespectacled and toy-deprived little boy, carved him magical toys from boxwood, and in some cases later became post-War neighbours next door. By then the national heroes of Government were not Churchill, man of war, but socially inclined builders of the Welfare State led by dull hard-working Clement Attlee.


Cambridge gave status as well as equipment: a highly respected history degree, a measure of self-confident ambition to work hard, and a well-trained critical mind. But my ambition was skewed and channeled, thanks to those earlier years and to teenage low-church membership and a similarly value-infused secondary schooling. These led inescapably towards ‘public service’. My ambition was to do good as well as doing well for myself; something less well regarded today but not one hopes undervalued in development work for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Another legacy was from the Low Church in which I grew up. Congregationalism was quintessentially democratic, as suited both my low-church mother and my father who had been a Quaker. Members chose their Minister who was not placed beneath a bishop in a hierarchy reaching down from God. The congregation of people chose how to connect with God: direct accountability in both directions; a recipe for good secular government.

From this grounding came fundamental belief in the ability and authority of ordinary folk. In later working life I was good at ‘managing down’ (enabling and empowering ‘subordinates’), less good at deferentially ‘managing up’: deference to authority had to be earned. I was thus better equipped for authentic popular and participatory development than for stasis-seeking hierarchies of control. Civil society and NGO sector networking, animation and leadership were a natural choice. All too often the useful wisdom of farm-workers, gypsies and tradespeople outshone the knowledge, ways and results of owner, manager and foreman. I learned to judge on results more than words.

Working young adult

For a decade I cut my teeth in English higher and adult education, moving from history to sociology and organisational behaviour, and teaching and practising community engagement. I studied and practised access and return-to-learn work: learning multiculturalism with home and overseas second chance students, and community-building with new Caribbean and South Asian immigrants in inner city Leeds. We studied, door-knocked and wrote about ghetto racism in housing practices and took action to counter it: old Adult Learning and Education equity principles from Workers’ Education Association and early university adult education days applied to new disadvantaged communities. I was introduced into relevant national adult education NGOs: the Workers’ Education Association, and the national University Adult and Continuing Education and university teaching and research association and the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education; and the international NGO world of Commonwealth, University Adult and Continuing Education and other international university organisations. I became the Editor of the International Congress of University Adult Education Journal at an indecently young age and for twenty years.

As the world of acronyms became familiar I added to my own mix UNESCO, including the Hamburg Institute for Lifelong Learning and later the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, as well as other United Nations bodies involved in adult learning and education as applied to their worlds: notably the International Labour Organisation, Food and Agriculture Organisation, World Health Organisation and the World Bank. I assumed an INGO journal editorship which ran a quarter century, and undertook casual-but-serious ‘moonlight’ consulting for these bodies. With the emergent intermediate regional IGO and INGO governance emerging in Europe I added the EU and assisted in the formation of European NGOs for university continuing education and research on the education of adults. Seduction to an ambitious young man, with little time to reflect on what it all added up to, and how the parts connected.

Growing-up global-local

In 1968 Leeds UK Professor and Grand Old Man of the university liberal ‘Great Tradition’ recommended me to direct a new Australian National University venture. The new University Centre for Continuing Education as it became, was an acclaimed and at times controversial ‘lighthouse’ of innovation. It allowed me to lead the national adult learning and education body; and to work for Australian adult learning and education globally through official Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and UNESCO National Commission channels. The position

offered a platform in and beyond Education

as Australia found its place in Asia. It was a

privilege of academic life in the seventies to

be able to work in free spaces both through

IGOs and also locally on access, professional

updating etc; and to involve Australia on the

emergent global INGO Adult Learning and

Education map. Through leadership positions

with the new International Council for Adult

Education founded after the UNESCO 1972

Tokyo Conference (CONFINTEA III), and as

Secretary-General of the regional body

ASPBAE I met Dr Hinzen. Together we worked to build enduring South-South links and an abiding non-colonist partnership between Germany’s DVV and ASPBAE in the new Asia.

From the end of the seventies this work has evolved on a basis of explicit shared mission and values, straddling levels from local through local-region to national, large-regional and international. New locations, mode and means of collaboration for development evolved as new opportunities and needs arose; the work for development – post-colonialist, balancing social with economic, participatory, for equity and sustainability – continued with unchanged basic principles: is this work good? – above all what is it good for? – and how well is it succeeding? My own roles have been diverse and changing: the last 15 years for example built on regional development work with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development to create an INGO ‘Observatory’ part-emulating ACU’s borderless HE approaches, through PASCAL and its affiliated membership body PIMA.

Until well into the new millennium I also held senior positions as deputy and then chief executive officer in United Kingdom and Australian universities: organisationally speaking a reality-check on the theories of social change and collaboration about which Hinzen and I frequently wrote. Biting the hands that fed me, I was and often remain critical of universities when practices fall short of high public service principle in the face of tough commercial reality and self-interest is disguised by rhetoric. Recent years of active retirement from paid employment give privileged freedom to reflect more deeply on the tangles of power, networks, roles and pressures that characterise the world of ‘development’; and to attempt to learn more and better about what works well and why. Now to the formation and contributions, including shared years of maturity and self-critical reflection of friend and colleague Hinzen.

Taken from:

Duke, C. & Hinzen, H. (2019). Adult Learning and Education: Active global citizens for sustainable development - a political, professional and personal account. CR&DALL Working Paper. CR&DALL WP401/2019, CR&DALL, Glasgow (UK), pp 10-12.

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