Professor Hywel Francis: the best weapon is the weapon of knowledge
With both academic and parliamentary experience, Professor Hywel Francis has contributed to many areas of learning. His accomplishments include expertise in social and oral history and adult education, and occupying leadership roles within public life in Wales. He works “as a historian, adult educator and political activist to develop strategies based on the universal values, social justice and social solidarity”. This aim, he told us, was first inspired by “the sacrifices and values of [his] parents and their community to achieve a better life for their children through public service”.
Professor Francis worked as a Professor of Continuing Education at Swansea University until 2001, when he entered Parliament as a representative for Aberafan. Whilst at Swansea, Professor Francis produced ground-breaking work in twentieth-century social history in Wales and pioneered widening access strategies for part-time adult students.
He also founded the South Wales Miners’ Library in 1973, which houses material collected by the South Wales Coalfield History Project and is one of Professor Francis’ proudest achievements.
Professor Francis was also involved in the creation of the Coalfield Archive, which has grown to become the Richard Burton Archives. He also helped establish the Welsh People’s History Society (Llafur), the Community University of the Valleys, the Bevan Foundation and the Wales Congress in Support of Mining Communities.
Professor Francis served as a Labour Member of Parliament from 2001-2015. During his time at Westminster, he chaired two important Parliament Select Committees: Welsh Affairs (2005-2010) and Human Rights (2010-2015). In his last year in Parliament, he was appointed Chair of Byw Nawr, the end-of-life care coalition in Wales which has achieved its objective of Welsh Government endorsement for its strategy of a ‘Compassionate Wales’. He was also made Honorary Parliamentary Patron of the adult learners’ body NIACE, chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History and became Vice-President of Carers UK. His most important legislative achievement was the passing of his Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act in 2004, which is his other proudest achievement.
Since 2015, Professor Francis has returned to Swansea University as the strategic advisor for Archives, Regional Policy and Widening Access. His work over the years has focused on public engagement and linking academia with social justice, and he plans to continue to “work in solidarity with the people of Wales through [his] commitment to education and public service”. He is an example of how academic research and public service and engagement can be combined. We look forward to benefiting from his expertise and helping him with his desire to see the world of learning in Wales “breathe life into the Welsh adage ‘gorau arf, arf dysg’ – the best weapon is the weapon of knowledge”.