Just Plain Rhetoric? An Analysis of Mission Statements of Canadian Universities Identifying Their Verbal Commitments to Facilitating and Promoting Lifelong Learning

  • Carolin Kreber University of Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Christine Mhina University of Alberta


Over the past decade, many government and policy documents have highlighted with greater urgency the need for lifelong learning. What do present mission statements of Canadian universities have to say regarding lifelong learning? In researching this question we analyzed the institutional mission statements of 58 Canadian universities to identify the extent to which these expressed commitments to facilitating and promoting lifelong learning. While mission statements cannot serve as proof of institutions actually enacting the goals and ideals by which they choose to portray themselves to the public, they still yield insight into the values institutions recognize as important. This article first proposes a model of conceptualizing lifelong learning in higher education. It distinguishes three dimensions of lifelong learning (the adaptive, the personal, and the democratic) and two aspects (lifelong learning as a goal and life-long learning as a process). From this three by two matrix we derive six categories of lifelong learning in or through higher education. We then use these six categories as a priori codes for our deductive anal- ysis of mission statements. We present and discuss the outcomes of our study, note differences with regards to institutional type, and make some suggestions for future research.