The Rural University recalls the earliest days of teaching and learning when people gathered informally to discuss and share knowledge. Sometimes the gatherings would include especially wise people who had spent a lifetime of reflection and were sought out for their knowledge. These people were often visitors. Usually the gatherings were unrestricted, with kids around the edges, curious and playful.

These ancient universities were without boundaries; without walls; convened around important questions with answers sought from life experience.

The modern Rural University is a little more structured and inclusive. It has a history of 20 years in several countries of Europe and four years in Quebec as the Universite Rurale Quebequoise. It is an event combining serious content with field trips and rural cultural celebration. Host institutions spend up to a year defining issues and studying local rural development in preparation. The Rural University lasts anywhere from a few days, to a week or extended over a series of weekends. It brings into the community, scientists and academics, technical specialists and bureaucrats to exchange theirs with local knowledge.

The principle is “faire croiser les savoirs”. “The interaction of knowledge and expertise.” The Rural University is the synergy of learning from the interchange of indigenous knowledge with science and governance.

The Rural University builds social cohesion and is an investment in social capital. It may provide the kickoff to mobilize local resources and human energy. It may be a strategic event, needed in a larger process of breaking out of a low-income trap. The Rural University may also be designed to enable the economic base to retool, to widen its markets, or break its dependency on a single industry. Academics and bureaucrats learn about relevance and effectiveness. The Rural University, like the rural economy, is multifunctional.

CRRF is transforming its annual 12-year format of national conferences into the CRRF Rural University. This means shifting the focus to issues selected by the host community and emphasizing learning formats and outcomes. International expertise and the results of CRRF’s New Rural Economy Research Program are brought to bear on Canadian rural issues.

The overall purpose of the CRRF Rural University is to nurture the learning culture in rural Canada, a necessary condition for “building rural economies for the third millenium”. For further information visit http://chrural.uqar.qc.ca/urq/