PUPiL Blog: Moving Beyond Frontiers with prison university partnerships

“University is about so much more than what was being studied”

said PET’s Nina Champion at the European Prison Education Association (EPEA) bi-annual conference in Vienna ‘Beyond Frontiers’ in November.

The EPEA is a body that crosses borders. Not only are delegates from across Europe and beyond (including colleagues from America and Australia,) the conference brings together practitioners and academics to share experience and expertise. The conference theme ‘Beyond Frontiers’ asked delegates to reflect on challenges, opportunities and aspirations for prison education. Yet throughout the conference, a further underlying theme arose; using collaboration between prisons and universities as a way to move beyond frontiers, meet challenges, create opportunities and fulfil aspirations.

These discussions provided the perfect springboard for launching the first Special Interest Group (SIG) of the EPEA; University-Prison Partnerships. The SIG aims to provide an important space to document these partnership practices, share (uplifting and difficult) experiences and develop best practice across Europe. By providing a platform to share research and experience, the SIG seeks to use this voice to promote access to higher education for prisoners and ex-prisoners and to influence European policy.

Beginning with a keynote address by PET’s Nina Champion (Western Region Representative for the EPEA), we were taken on a tour of prison university partnerships she visited during her Winston Churchill fellowship research. Nina reflected on her travels across Europe and America where she visited a range of inspirational Prison-university partnerships. The diversity of approach and the range of benefits reported by partners was a particularly striking finding throughout her research, with university students, academics and prisoners finding numerous innovative ways to support each other.

Later we heard from colleagues in Scotland who introduced us to a wide range of partnerships developed to create ‘aspirational learning’ opportunities for students at university and in prison. Such partnerships included peer learning in literacy and media. Led by Anne Schwan of Edinburgh Napier University, this partnership sees university students take 6 week placements to provide feedback and mentoring to prisoners across a number of literacy activities. Another partnership, led by Sarah Armstrong from Glasgow University, uses academic reading groups in prisons to replicate in prisons a space that typically forms part of a liberal arts education.

These discussions provided the perfect springboard for launching the first Special Interest Group (SIG) of the EPEA; University-Prison Partnerships

Finally we heard about the experiences of colleagues setting up and delivering ‘Learning Together’ partnerships in England. Even within this panel, the diversity of approach shone through. For Ross Little, at De Montfort University, working within a local prison demanded a flexible approach and led to the development of a co-produced short course in criminology.  Anne O’Grady discussed the partnership she leads between Nottingham Trent University and HMP Lowdham Grange. This partnership brings together education and penal debates leading to a full module around social justice. Finally Morwenna Bennallick outlined some of the unanticipated joys of co-facilitating a partnership in the youth estate with her colleague Serena Wright from Royal Holloway University of London.

We invite all members of PUPiL to sign up to the EPEA and become part of this growing European movement.

As a developing group, your input will be valued in the content and style of working as the SIG develops to ensure it is useful for everyone. To sign up to become a member of the EPEA, please visit the website. To express your interest in becoming a member of the Special Interest Group, please email nina@prisonerseducation.org.uk who will be leading this work on the EPEA steering committee.

We are excited about taking the next steps to develop the European picture of prison-university partnerships with the EPEA and hope that you come along with us.

This is part of the PUPiL blog series. If you would like to respond to the points and issues raised in this blog, or to contribute to the blog yourself, please contact Morwenna.