Gratis campus for all

A FREE university has sprung up in Melbourne’s inner-north aiming to promote ‘learning for learning’s sake’.

Up to 40 people a week have been attending Melbourne Free University classes on philosophy, sociology and cinema in Clifton Hill and North Carlton.

Co-founder Gerhard Hoffstaedter has a traditional academic background, with a PhD in anthropology and sociology from La Trobe University, and is a research fellow at the Institute for Human Security.

Mr Hoffstaedter, Jasmine Westendorf and Aurelien Mondon formed the organisation in response to what they perceived to be the increased ‘commodification’ of knowledge in traditional universities.

‘In an industry things have to become more measurable and outcomes-based,’ Mr Hoffstaedter said.

‘A lot of people study a degree that will lead to a career, like a business degree, and then can’t study things they are interested in, such as politics, society and philosophy.’

"Gratis campus for all" MFUs Gerhard and Aurelien at Dexter cafe

Loosely based on similar organisations in France and Germany, Melbourne Free University was launched in May last year. The university offers six-week courses, with the weekly lesson divided into a 45-minute lecture then a 45-minute discussion. Students are not assessed, get no qualification and come from all educational backgrounds.

Guest lecturers have included university academics, priests, and professionals from a range of fields.

‘Most of the subjects are arts based, but we hope to expand that,’ Mr Hoffstaedter said.

A new semester will begin next month, with classes on philosophy and racism being offered at Cafe Dexter in Clifton Hill and at the North Carlton Railway Neighbourhood House.

Tracey Pahor, of Fairfield, has attended the free classes regularly while doing her PhD in social inclusion at Melbourne University.

‘Doing a PhD it’s not often you get to sit around and have someone raise an idea and just chat with other people about it,’ Ms Pahor said.

‘It’s a really different mix of people there with different ages and different life experiences, so it makes the discussions really interesting. It’s quite social and everyone is very friendly.’

Story by the Melbourne Leader’s Nic Price