'Academic tourists' cram colleges

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The Independent Online

School's not out this summer. The latest boom in Britain's holiday industry is academic tourism. Rather than lie by the pool, or sunbathe on the beach, millions of people - children, pensioners, young people and foreign visitors - are flocking to Britain's colleges and universities to enjoy a week or fortnight of learning.

School's not out this summer. The latest boom in Britain's holiday industry is academic tourism. Rather than lie by the pool, or sunbathe on the beach, millions of people - children, pensioners, young people and foreign visitors - are flocking to Britain's colleges and universities to enjoy a week or fortnight of learning.

This year has seen higher attendances than ever before at summer schools, according to Britain's elite universities. Both Oxford and Cambridge have seen record numbers of students signing up to courses in subjects bizarre as well as mainstream.

"We're very well subscribed," said Lynda Fisher, of Cambridge University's Board of Continuing Education, while a St Andrew's spokesman said: "For next year, we're actually thinking of doing that clichéd thing of putting a note in the prospectus saying, 'Book early to avoid disappointment'."

The self-selection of summer classes gives Oxford University a chance to counter the views of critics like Gordon Brown that it is an elitist university. Anybody can be a student at summer school, so long as they stump up £290 for seven days' tuition and meals. Accommodation is extra.

Last week, Oxford's main thoroughfares were filled with ordinary tourists, jostling for space with students from foreign language colleges and the summer schools. The university's department of continuing education was offering courses such as "Early Christian Art in Rome and Ravenna", "China's Rise As A Great Power" and the poetry of Yeats.

In one seminar room, a class was delving into the philosophy of Wittgenstein. In another, a sample of the music of Erik Satie was being played to students.

The trend for learning holidays extends to schools, especially private ones, who are opening up their facilities during August to offer courses in sports, hobbies and more academic, traditional subjects.

There were 1,800 voluntary summer schools at secondary schools this year for 11-year-olds who need help with literacy and numeracy, compared with 1,200 last year.

In addition, 500 summer schools were recently held at universities, with the aim of encouraging bright children from inner-city schools to apply. In 1999, there were only a handful of these.

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