Popular University of Caen

University for all


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Web http://upc.michelonfray.fr/


About the project Edit

The Popular University of Caen was created by Michel Onfray in October 2002. The basic concept is that it be free of charge. There are also no requirements concerning age or previous academic credentials, no enrollment, no tests, no exams, and no diplomas are awarded. The course is given once a week for two hours. The first hour consists in a well-argued lecture and the second is a discussion about this lecture. The session runs from mid-October to mid-May, a period based on the l’Académie de Caen’s academic holidays. Even though the lectures are structured using the same model as those of a standard university, the school is not recognized by France’s Ministry of Higher Education. The lecturers themselves are also not required to have the formal credentials required by traditional higher education.

The first popular university dates back to the end of the 19th century, around the time of the Dryfus Affair. Teachers, intellectuals, historians, writers, and philosophers gave free courses destined for what would have then been the working class. The second popular university was an updated version of the first but still had similar objectives: the democratization of culture and free distribution of knowledge to a greater number of people. Culture is therefore seen as one part of the self-construct rather than as defining the individual.

In what ways is this project unique and creative? Edit

Popular universities retain many aspects of traditional universities: the quality of information, the concept of personal development, and the need for information before debates arise. They also retain some of the same qualities as the café philosophique: an open-to-all philosophy, a discriminating use of knowledge, interactivity, and the use of dialogue as a means of accessing content. Popular universities thus act as an intermediary between the elitism of universities and the improvisation of the café philosophique.

What is the social value of this project? Edit

The Popular University of Caen provides a non-academic, informal forum for debate and the exchange of ideas. The lectures are open to all and attendees are not required to register. Furthermore, the lecturers do not necessarily have formal teaching certification.

What is the potential of this project to expand and develop? Edit

The concept behind this approach is easily duplicated in other regions or in different contexts. Three years after the opening of the Popular University of Caen, Emmanuel Dockès and Philippe Corcuff opened the Popular University of Lyon in January 2005. It sets itself apart from the other schools by choosing a unifying theme for seminars throughout the year. The teachers contribute to the chosen theme according to their respective specialties. The idea is to ensure that concepts and ideas intersect from one seminar to another. The Popular University of Grenoble, opened on January 17, 2007 by Laurent Dartigues, follows the same model and values as the other popular universities. Other countries in Europe, the Americas, and Africa have also used the popular university model.

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