Dundee: Learning City – 10th November 2009

This Go Dundee event took place on Tuesday 10th November 2009 at the Apex Hotel, Dundee and was attended by over 100 people.

Go Dundee Learning  City

It was an evening of lively dialogue on the theme of Dundee’s role as a learning city and featured the following guest speakers:

  • Tom Schuller – author of new book ‘Learning Through Life’ and renowned international expert in education
  • David Dorward – new Chief Executive of Dundee City Council
  • Pete Downes – new Principal of the University of Dundee

This exciting lineup of speakers from three different backgrounds shared their views on the importance of learning in the City of Dundee and there was also an opportunity for dialogue among attendees.

Key points from the speakers’ presentations

Tom Schuller

Tom Schuller (by BurntNorton)

In order to support and encourage lifelong learning in the city, Tom suggested that Dundee should consider three key actions:

  • A longitudinal study which would examine and report on the relationship between education and health in the city
  • Entitlement to learning leave, i.e. time off to study as part of an employee’s contract of employment
  • A framework for a citizens’ curriculum allowing the people of Dundee to take greater control over their lives – possible issues are digital, health, financial and civic.

See Tom’s full presentation here (opens as a Powerpoint file).
See the Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning homepage here.
Read the Guardian aticle on Tom Schuller’s Lifelong Learning report here.
Buy Tom’s book “Learning Through Life – Enquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning” here.

David Dorward

David Dorward (by BurntNorton)

David’s vision for Dundee is that, by 2017, Dundee will be the best small city in the UK, demonstrated by the following achievements:

  • The city has increased its population through the creation of job opportunities and new businesses
  • The development of Dundee Waterfront, including the V&A at Dundee and three quality hotels, has made a major contribution to the city’s thriving economy
  • There is a successful renewable energy sector in Dundee
  • Dundee is the first Scottish city to achieve 100 Megabit per second broadband access through a fibre network
  • Dundee has become a viable visitor destination as a result of the success of the V&A at Dundee, Dundee Rep, DCA, McManus Galleries and other attractions
  • The Overgate extension has helped to reinforce Dundee’s role as a successful regional shopping centre
  • Dundee has successfully improved the health of its citizens through a variety of measures including the new swimming and fitness centre in the city centre
  • Dundee has maintained services and support for those who are in the least well-off sections of society
  • Dundee’s children are safe and well educated
  • Dundee’s elderly people are treated with respect and dignity

Pete Downes

Pete Downes

Pete’s vision for the future direction of the University of Dundee is based around the three themes of excellence, focus and impact.  His priorities for the city are:

  • Continue to build Dundee’s reputation as a national and international destination
  • Deliver inspirational teaching
  • Produce high quality graduates that are fit for the world of work
  • Generate successful, high value businesses
  • Make Dundee competitive for inward investment opportunities
  • Continue to build a high quality of cultural life in the city and to develop the University campus as a cultural resource

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”

Read the Sunday Times interview with Pete Downes here.

Group discussion

Following the speakers’ presentations attendees were invited to discuss their reactions to the points raised and to identify actions required to bring about positive changes in Dundee.

Question 1: What are the important issues for Dundee?


  • Dundee should pursue a policy of inclusive lifelong learning.  Don’t wait for large organisations to act – create a wave of change!
  • We need to create a confident city in which people have the tools to change their situation through learning and fulfil their potential.
  • We need to be more creative in the way that we learn.  What are our educational needs as a community and as a city?
  • Education should not be just about schools, it should be about lifelong learning, with less control by the local authority and more opportunity for the community to participate.
  • No matter what age you are you are still learning.  It doesn’t matter by what means you learn – collectively or family learning.
  • We need to change our understanding of age transitions relative to learning, as proposed by Tom Schuller, e.g. under-25, 25-50, 50-75, 75-plus.  We should do more to make use of the talents of retired people in Dundee.  Need to capitalise on knowledge from one end of the learning spectrum to the other, i.e. school pupils to retired people.
  • We need to promote and nurture self-determination and motivation in young people.  Must give young people the opportunity to engage in their community.
  • Key to pupil learning is the community and physical environment around schools.  Use schools to engage with the local community.
  • Effective partnerships increase the potential of people to develop.
  • We need facilities for people to meet and to develop a learning culture – this would help to reduce loneliness and alienation.  Need to create more places where learning can take place in different forms.
  • Learning matters to us, it matters to Dundee and we should aspire to make Dundee fully a learning city.


  • We believe in the vision that Dundee can be the best small city in the UK.  The big challenge will be to ensure that the achievement of this vision makes a difference to the 30% of the city’s population who live in the most deprived communities.  Inequality is a key issue and the inequality gap has widened over the last 10 years.
  • We must ensure that the V&A at Dundee is for everyone in the city, not just the better-off, and that Dundee communities are engaged in the process of creating the V&A at Dundee.  The V&A project will be an important catalyst of change in Dundee and a sign of confidence in the city.  We need to make the V&A project relevant to the communities in Dundee and not out of their reach.
  • It’s good that Dundee has 24,000 university students (plus around 20,000 College students) but bad that 40,000 residents are classified as living within the data zones ranked the 15% most deprived in Scotland.  Dundee needs to find a way to bridge the gap between the economically successful and the economically deprived.  Need to get people in Dundee more involved, e.g. get deprived community onto university campuses.  Also, schools need to be more inspirational.
  • There is a divide between those who enjoy the other benefits of life including good health, good income, good opportunities and good learning, and the other third of Dundee who are in the poverty trap.
  • We need to promote a balance of tolerance and intolerance – most of us want to promote ‘the good society’ and are aware of the increasingly high costs of social waste, environmental waste and economic waste.
  • Our main concern was how to engage young people who are on the margins of society, whose frustrations and anxiety can lead to hugely destructive expressions and of whom most of us are scared.
  • We should build on the experience of Ardler village and empower people within their communities to take ownership of the processes that affect them. The Ancrum Outdoor Education Centre is another good example of a facility that connects with both young people and adults within the community.
  • How do you identify Dundee’s soul?  It’s not about buildings, it’s about Dundonians.

Excellence in Dundee

  • Need to be ambitious and to set challenging objectives for Dundee in an international context, e.g. biotechnology, V&A, new university campus.
  • We need to bring together some of the excellence that exists throughout the city in new and innovative ways.  We should try to link the science and culture, for which Dundee is rightly proud, in new and innovative ways.
  • We must find a way to retain graduates in Dundee after graduating by creating more and better job opportunities.
  • Technology should be a key part of how Dundee works including the promotion of the city.  We need a network of idea creators in Dundee.  Also need people to blog about life in Dundee.
  • We need an umbrella organisation to collate all the good things that are happening in Dundee, with just one place to access all types of information.  Many people are unaware of the important things happening in Dundee.
  • Dundee residents and workers should be given the chance to make an input to the vision for the city.

Arts, Culture, Sport and Health

  • It’s difficult to quantify the impact of the arts in Dundee.  Different activities promote well-being in different ways and the arts should be an inclusive process.  For example, we need to make the Science Centre and other cultural attractions more meaningful for all Dundee citizens.
  • Sport has made a positive impact in Dundee and can be measured by improvements in health.
  • Health is also a key issue for Dundee – poor health goes hand-in-hand with poverty.

Question 2 – What do we need to do now?

  • We must ‘talk up’ Dundee, not vice versa, and challenge negative stereotypes. We should all become conscious ambassadors for Dundee, like Eddie Mair and Lorraine Kelly.
  • Dundee needs to develop, renew and sustain partnerships across the city, using an evidence-based approach.
  • We should provide more opportunities for people to engage in different forms of dialogue on a range of issues.  A good current example are the café science sessions at Borders and the Science Centre (see www.cafesciencedundee.co.uk).
  • Networks like Go Dundee can help us to come to a more balanced view on how to tackle negative issues in a positive way. Everyone attending a Go Dundee event should go out and get another 10 people to join Go Dundee.  We should share contacts within the groups at Go Dundee events.  Make the presentations from this event available to everyone.  We should organise Go Dundee community events.
  • Dundee should develop the concept of a learning entitlement as proposed by Tom Schuller.  This should not become something determined by the needs of the employer but should be something determined by the aspirations of individuals.  Of course some will abuse it but the vast majority would use it as a precious opportunity if it were delivered in the right way.  We think in our own organisations we can promote this concept and are committed to doing this.
  • We should develop a major initiative taken forward by public sector agencies which would release the talents and commitments of adult society, whether these adults work or are volunteers, to engage with young people through sport, arts, youth work, music and frankly any other way people feel able to contribute.
  • We need to find ways to do more with less.  We need to learn how to deliver new rewards to staff, perhaps new flexibilities, with less bureaucracy and more trust.
  • We need a debate about what it means to be a good citizen today.
  • We need to find ways of capturing the commitment of communities and professionals.
  • We should ensure action rather than words.
  • We must tackle negativity as it stifles innovation.
  • We need to get people out of their comfort zone.
  • We must encourage community engagement.
  • We need to make the facilities in the city affordable, e.g. family ticket for swimming pool.
  • We need to develop leadership in the city.
  • We should make greater use of the opportunities offered by the new national education policy Curriculum for Excellence (www.ltscotland.org.uk/curriculumforexcellence/index.asp), for example, to open up schools to truly become community resources – after all, we are all paying for them!  Curriculum for Excellence should start by changing the relationship of education providers to young people and, by doing so, the relationship of young people to learning.

Speakers biographies:

Tom Schuller

Tom Schuller is director of an independent Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning in the UK, sponsored by the National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education. Its main report, Learning Through Life, was published in September 2009. From 2003-2008 Tom was Head of the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI), OECD, Paris. Formerly Dean of the Faculty of Continuing Education and Professor of Lifelong Learning at Birkbeck, University of London from 1999 to 2003, he was also co-director of the Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning. Previous positions were at the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Warwick, at the Institute for Community Studies in London, and for four years at OECD in the 1970s. Tom’s research history covers many areas of lifelong learning, but also fields such as employee participation, social capital and the social study of time. His most recent books are Understanding the Social Outcomes of Learning (with Richard Desjardins, OECD 2007), Evidence in Education: Linking Research and Policy (edited, with Tracey Burns, OECD 2007), and The Benefits of Learning: The Impact of Education on Health, Family Life and Social Capital (with John Preston et al, RoutledgeFalmer 2004). He chairs the Governing Board of the Working Men’s College and plays in the Alexandra Palace Band.

David Dorward, Chief Executive, Dundee City Council

David joined Perth & Kinross Joint County Council as an Accountancy Assistant in 1971 and, as part of the Scottish local government reorganisation in 1975, moved to Tayside Regional Council. While at Tayside, he held a wide variety of posts including financial responsibility for services as diverse as Education, Social Work, Police, Fire, Water and Sewerage, the preparation and monitoring of the Revenue and Capital budgets and the management of Loans and Pension Funds. In 1994 he was promoted to the post of Depute Director of Finance. From 1994 to 2006 he was responsible for the Tayside Pension Funds, which are currently valued at over £1.7 billion. In May 1995 he was appointed Director of Finance for Dundee City Council. During the first year of the City Council he was involved in concluding the first local government PFI deal in Scotland, being a Joint Venture Company, Dundee Energy Recycling Limited (DERL) to construct and operate the Baldovie Waste to Energy Incineration Plant. In 2003, David’s duties within Dundee City Council were extended and his post was redesignated to Depute Chief Executive (Finance). David is currently a company Director of Dundee Energy Recycling Limited, Dundee City Developments Ltd., Dundee Leisure, Discovery Education Dundee, Dundee Airport Ltd and Sustain, Dundee. He is currently Treasurer of both the Tayside Valuation Joint Board and the Tay Road Bridge Joint Board. David has served on a wide variety of working groups for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and Audit Scotland. From 1984 to 1989 David was a final year examiner with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) and lectured for the Scottish Local Authority Management Centre on financial matters. David was a member of the CIPFA in Scotland Executive from 1999 to 2006. In 2003 he was the Chair of CIPFA in Scotland. David was appointed as Chief Executive of Dundee City Council with effect from 1st October 2009. David is married and has three daughters and one grand-daughter. He was a founder member of the Dundee United Supporters Trust. His hobbies are playing and watching football, golf and listening to music.

Professor Pete Downes, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Dundee

Professor Pete Downes, Principal and Vice Chancellor of Dundee University is a highly successful academic with an unusual background. Brought up on a council estate he passed his eleven plus and went to the local grammar school. Despite being offered a post as a student at Cambridge University he decided that the pharmaceutical industry would be better for him than the rarefied environment at Cambridge . Later he went to Birmingham University to do a PhD, moved to Dundee 20 years ago and started using his industrial experience to drive the development of the life sciences area at the University of Dundee . Professor Downes comes from a research background but he is passionate about the educational experience that students get whilst at University and, of course, research is just a part of this. His drive to recognise the key role of academic teachers in delivering this experience was honed in Life Sciences and is now being applied across the whole University. The whole of Dundee will benefit from Pete’s contribution to further developing Dundee as a Learning City .

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