Workers' Educational Association
Workers' Educational Association (WEA) was formed in England in 1903 by Albert Mansbridge to provide higher education for the working class, whose needs had been abandoned by mechanics' institutes and then the University Extension movement. Mansbridge, who believed that the social order could be changed by education and not conflict, spread his message to Australia in 1913. In Tasmania the University was receptive and appointed Herbert Heaton, the secretary to the newly formed Board of University Extension, to teach history and economics to the newly created and voluntary WEA. Interest spread to the north and west and tutors were appointed. Student numbers rose to 540 in 1929.
Classes were held in subjects such as modern history, literature, psychology, industrial management, political science, economics, Australia and the Pacific, geology, the Middle East, Tasmania's economic problems, electricity and its applications, capital and capitalism, and law and democratic institutions. In the 1930s lectures and tutorials were supplemented by debates, play readings and lunchtime meetings at factories. One tutor, the communist Esmonde Higgins, remembered regularly talking to thirty men at the Launceston Railway Workshops about 'everything under the sun' related to current affairs. In the late 1930s Premier Albert Ogilivie felt the WEA was not providing workers with a suitable education, and government support waned. Weak leadership from the centre exacerbated ill-feeling. Government reports in 1945 and 1947 concluded that a new structure for adult education was needed and from the 1950s the Adult Education Board took over from the underfunded WEA as the main supplier of adult education.
Further reading: K Brooks, An affirming flame, Hobart, 1987; D Whitelock, The great tradition, Brisbane, 1974.