This paper explores how changing higher education policies and funding, influenced by neoliberalism, are impacting on university adult and continuing education in England and Aotearoa New Zealand. The downhill trajectory of English university continuing education in the first decade of the twenty-first century is compared with the apparent buoyancy of the situation in New Zealand during the same period. The paper discusses some of the contextual factors which may have contributed to sustaining continuing education in New Zealand, against the tide of developments elsewhere, and in spite its subjection to the influence of neoliberal policies since the 1980s. These factors include: an ethos of public dissemination of knowledge, an acknowledgement of the universities’ role as ‘critic and conscience’ of society, a broad commitment to educational equality and an approach which has been strategic as well as pragmatic. The paper describes developments in one New Zealand continuing education department between 2006 and 2010 as it experiences further institutional and political change. The author concludes that, in spite of having demonstrated considerable resilience, the current structures and activities of continuing education departments in New Zealand are as fragile as they have been shown to be in England. Possible responses to the current situation are discussed and ‘radical hope’ (Brookfield 2005) is advocated as the university-based adult educators’ response in difficult times. Radical hope, founded on critical theory, involves recognising and challenging the assumptions of neoliberalism, as well as critical praxis (Carr and Kemmis 1986), and a reaffirmation on the part of academics and adult educators of the political nature of adult education (Freire 1972; Crowther et al 2005; Martin 2008; Wallace 2008)
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