Summertime, and the learning is easy

If molecular biology leaves you cold, how about haunted houses in literature? Oxford traditionally provides individual meetings between tutors and students
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The Independent Culture
In late July, when others choose to lie on beaches soaking up the sun, a group of people will be drenching themselves in the late writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein. They will be addressing such questions as "What prevents me from feeling your pain?" and "What prevents me from having a pain I don't feel?"

In probing the relationship between mind and language, the group will discuss a question which could well pop into the minds of supine sun-seekers. "When I say `it's hot today', I mean something.When a parrot says it, it doesn't. What makes the difference?"

Locke versus Wittgenstein on Mind and Meaning is proving extremely popular with those signing up for courses this summer at the Oxford University Summer School for Adults.

The summer school is run by the university's department of continuing education. Anyone over 18 can enrol and no formal qualifications are needed. Those seeking to broaden their horizons can sign up for courses on science, literature, art, music and contemporary culture. If "An introduction to molecular biology" leaves you cold, how about "Haunted houses in literature" or "Woodland conservation and forestry practice"? Or, for those with eclectic tastes and bags of stamina, maybe all three.

This summer, says Anna Sandham, programme co-ordinator, philosophy, film studies and creative writing are generating the most demand. In the year that Sophie's World, a book about philosophy, unexpectedly topped the hardback bestseller list for weeks, it is maybe not surprising that the summer school has laid an an extra Locke versus Wittgenstein course.

Cinetastes are also making their preferences felt. "Journeys in film and contemporary cinema" are both booked. But there are still places available on "Bunuel and the Surrealist film and US independent cinema".

Oxford University has been running summer schools since 1888. In line with its teaching tradition, it provides individual meetings between tutors and students. If students attend two tutorials and complete two assignments to their tutor's satisfaction, they receive a credit which can contribute to degree-level programmes through the expanding Credit Accumulation Transfer Scheme.

But not every attendee is keen to boost paper qualifications. For many, the drive to acquire new skills or beef up existing ones can be motivation enough.

Many universities are happy to provide the public with a chance to use their facilities, tap into their expertise and, in this way, to reach out to those who do not normally have much truck with academe.

At Sussex University, week-long summer courses in language learning predominate. Japanese, French, German and Italian are offered and those who stump up their £80 can use the language centre on campus.

Other courses have a less mainstream flavour. The "Ancient prehistoric arts and technology" course, based at Midland Priory, half an hour from Brighton, gives enthusiasts a chance to experiment with wattle daubs, make pottery, weave textiles, and even have a bash at making a coracle. It may not lead to letters after your name but it certainly sounds fun.

The University of Edinburgh runs summer schools which attract students from all over the world. Not surprisingly, they include a strong national flavour - Scottish culture studies, Scottish archaeology, Scottish Gaelic and Scottish architecture. Music and creative writing also feature strongly, with courses on the short story, playwriting and drama. Others take their starting point from the events of the Edinburgh Festival, which dominates the city for three weeks.

Edinburgh College of Art also attracts people from abroad for its summer school, which is flourishing in its fifth year. But only 10 per cent of students are from overseas. Around 60 per cent are from Scotland and 30 per cent from England and Eire. Those who enrol get help in finding accommodation - atricky task at festival time.

Professional tuition is geared to each student's ability, courses are taught by college tutors and special talks are given by Scottish artists and guest speakers. A visit to Elizabeth Blackadder's Edinburgh home, gardens and studio has become a tradition.

George Donald, course director, says the aim of the summer school is to make resources available to a much broader range of people than would normally come into contact with an art college. Tutors are committed to encouraging each participant to reach his or her full potential, whether they opt for one, two or three weeks of study.

The college offers nine courses, ranging from watercolour painting to life modelling, printmaking and photography. The city's dramatic skyline and close proximity to hills and sea makes painting outdoors a popular option. The bustle and clamour of the city at festival time should provide bags of material for those who stay around, easel at the ready after their course.

Combining a stay in a most agreeable city with culture on tap and the chance to learn new skills, pleasures and accomplishments sounds like a tempting prospect. More and more people seem to be coming round to the idea that it beats crashing out on a beach thinking about how hot it is today.

For further information contact: Oxford University Department for Continuing Education, 01865 270396; Edinburgh College of Art Summer School, 031 221 6153; Centre for Continuing Education, University of Sussex, 01273 678025.