What was the inspiration for Free University Brighton? We set it up in 2012. Around the same time I went to an Occupy movement protest at St Paul’s in London, and I was inspired by their Tent City University. People were educating each other for free, particularly around economics, answering some of the questions about why so many people are homeless, without jobs, on low incomes, etc.
What degree-level courses do you offer? The social science ‘freegree’ is mixed subject: we do an intro to philosophy, criminology, sociology, gender studies, psychology. We happen to have a lot of philosophy teachers working with us, so we’ve created a separate ‘freegree’ in philosophy too.
Are the FUB classes like traditional university classes? A lot of our learning is quite interactive. It’s different from university where you’re sat there with a hundred people passively absorbing the knowledge from one person. Ours tend to be a bit of information, then a bit of discussion: learning, questioning, sharing each other’s knowledge.
Does that help make it more accessible? Absolutely. A lot of people say ‘I haven’t got A Levels’ or ‘I had a poor education experience at school, will I be able to cope?’ We start off in the first year at a very basic level, so that doesn’t really matter. We discuss things that are going on in the world that people might be interested in. A couple of years ago, we ran a course on Brexit, for example, at an entry level. Anyone can do our courses.
What else does FUB offer? We now use the website as a sort of one-stop-shop for listing anything educational that’s free. For example, places like the Cowley Club and The Bevy do a lot of talks and workshops. The Universities of Sussex and Brighton often do public lectures that anyone can pop into.
Why is free education important? I think it’s important because learning is so fundamental to us. We don’t ever stop learning and it’s so vital for everything we do: for our jobs, to be a positive member of the community, in politics, in social situations. So much of what we teach and learn at the Free University is about exposing and highlighting the inequalities in society and the repercussions of that. If you come from a poor, deprived background then there’s so many things that won’t be accessible to you. That happened to me. I came from a poor family, and was working in very low paid jobs. The way I managed to improve my life was through university, before the tuition fees. If you can educate yourself, that is one way of breaking through poverty and having a better life.
Free University Brighton founder Ali Ghanimi was interviewed by Joe Fuller
The FUB website lists a wide range of free activities, including allotment gardening, yoga, Japanese calligraphy, learning English as a Second Language, creative writing, interview skills and more: freeuniversitybrighton.org