Heribert Hinzen

Heribert Hinzen wrote the background paper for the financing com-mission that is reprinted here. Prof.(H) Dr.Heribert Hinzen is Director of DVV International and was convenor of the working group: ICAE Commission on Adult Education, Organisation and Financing. He is also vice-president of ICAE and EAEA.

Adult Education: Organisation and Financing - Background Document

The Delors Report to UNESCO in 1995 claimed that "learning through-out life" was the key to a better future. Educationists should do every-thing possible to create opportunities to fulfil the individual's learning needs and related capacities. Learning must be associated with all dimensions of life, life-long, life-wide and life-deep. This was to hap-pen at all times, at all levels, and in all forms, formal, non-formal and informal.

There is no longer any doubt that adult education within lifelong learning is a key factor in economic and social development, as well as being a human right. New policies for adult education must result in coherent laws and legislation which clearly spell out ways and means for financing adult education, involving both the public and the private sector, the social partners as well as the individual. But it is still apparent from comparative studies that changes in most countries are too slow and too timid, resulting in continued low investment in human resources. There is an urgent need to reverse this trend.

As soon as we accept that adults are interested in and need life-long learning opportunities, then we are suddenly confronted with a simple reality: if the greatest proportion of the population is made up of adults, young and old, then adult learning is the largest education sector, and why should it not receive proportionately as much attention and support as any of the others, or even more?

There are strong arguments for a four-pillar approach to a concept and system of lifelong learning, and there should be no doubt that schools, vocational training, universities and adult education are of equal importance for the individual and society.

"Schools" includes all kinds of schools, pre-schools and kindergartens, special education for those with disabilities, comprehensive schools and "gymnasia". Vocational training should also be seen in its broadest sense, including pre-training and inservice training, retraining for the unemployed and upgrading of skills for those in senior management. And universities should be taken to include the whole sector of tertiary education, including the college level as well as forms of academic further education. Adult education itself should therefore also be regarded from an inclusive perspective, embracing everyone from younger adults to the elderly, with their respective learning needs, ranging from the different forms of self-directed learning to the huge variety of providing institutions and learning arrangements.

Adult education provision in most countries is sufficient neither in quantity nor in quality. Relevant statistics are limited in scope and often outdated. However, the limited statistics available plausibly suggest that participation lags far behind what is needed in respect of employability and active citizenship. The challenges for all countries are: how to increase and sustain participation rates, how to stimulate the motivation of prospective learners, and how to shape a system of education and training for young people and adults which ensures higher levels of participation. While a general growth in adult education participation is necessary to expand and enhance human potential, special attention has to be given to those who normally do not take part: those who were not successful in school and vocational education and lack motivation; women who lack sufficient time due to the double stress of working and caring for family and children; and households which lack financial resources because of low incomes.

Adult learning as a broad concept should foster active citizenship, strengthen personal growth and secure social inclusion, thus going far beyond employability - and all of these include education and training in a lifelong perspective. How can the employability of the workforce be improved unless general and vocational training for youth and adults is of consistently good quality? How can mobility be reinforced without training in languages and intercultural skills for younger and older adults?

Policy, Organisation and Financing

In almost every country, governments find it easy to have a policy for schools and higher education, there is usually legislation governing both of them, and there is financial provision, though this is often not high enough. It is very often different in the case of adult education, most governments finding it difficult to do what is required. The majority of countries in the world may even be without adult education policies, and without legislation, and even more often, only meagre finances are available.

Why is this so? What could be the possible reasons? We hear of the complexity of what is described as the adult education and training market, in which there are so many players and nobody wants to be regulated and controlled by others. And there is not enough money for teachers and schools anyway. But why should young people and adults, and their education and training, suffer?

Some of the research data available on participation rates in adult education programmes suggest that the better you are qualified via schooling and university training the more likely it is that you will continue to upgrade your knowledge and skills via adult continuing education throughout life, or at least throughout working life. Therefore we need policies and legislation, and organisational and financial measures, that counteract this situation and support the trend to give particular attention to the less successful and to non-participants in adult training, who are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed. The Commission should seek solutions in some of these areas.

Lifelong learning - including all sorts of training and retraining on all levels - has a key role to play in all matters related to employability and active citizenship. Bridges are needed between formal and non-formal educational institutions, and each provider has to play a role: schools and universities, companies and VET institutions. On a policy level the debate should centre much more around investment in people and their education by governments, employers and learners themselves. Innovative mechanisms for learning accounts, educational loans and savings accounts need to be analysed and evaluated.

A few more words on the financing of adult education. If we take it seriously, we cannot expect any institution to be the sole source of funds. We have already been living with a mixed situation, with contributions from different sources. However, it is right to expect a substantial proportion from government and other public sources, not only because most tax-payers are adults. If we argue for equality in a four-pillar approach to the education sector, then support for adult learning through adult education becomes a public responsibility.

Adults share in the costs and contribute as individuals via participants' fees. However, not all courses should cost the same: some should be free, or subsidized for certain groups.

The private sector and many companies see the further education and training of their employees as an investment in human resources, sometimes reported in balance sheets as human capital. Here again, this investment may not be high enough, and it is more often seen in larger companies. But we should clearly state that the privatization of adult education financing has reached a limit, and that the contribution made by individuals and companies has always been significant.

We have seen an interesting diversity of models in financing adult education recently in different countries. When looking at the demand and supply side, many professionals still argue that at least basic institutional funding is a prerequisite for quality provision. Others prefer to support the individual more directly through grant schemes and learning accounts.

In the past we have often insisted that there is a dichotomy between general and vocational adult continuing education, as if they were completely separate. Today we prefer to see the interrelationship between them: much general education has an immediate impact on the vocational. The whole debate on key competencies and core skills stresses that general education is important for the vocational - and vice versa.

When discussing literacy skills, we used to think of reading, writing and numeracy. Today we have to add all that is associated with the different requirements of information technology. Competence in computer skills has almost become a prerequisite for our daily life, and what office, even in the smallest company, can do without it? It is becoming a general basic skill, for both general and vocational purposes.

Hence, what is important is not the dichotomy between general and vocational education, but the continuum in the advancement of both, and the bridges between the two.

Adult education has to build on what is achieved during childhood and youth, to nurture the desire to be an active citizen, and to provide the skills to do this competently, through civic adult education.

What implications have these insights for adult education and training policy, organisation and financing? What sort of structural support do we need? More financial input for providing institutions, or more incentives for individuals, or a mix of both?

Participants, Programmes and Providers

We have compulsory schooling, we do not have compulsory adult education. And we should not aspire to have it as the freedom of choice to participate or not, and if so, in what, when and where, has been one of the most important advantages of adult education. But there is a new myth lurking around the corner. Is the concept of lifelong learning in danger of turning into a call for lifelong schooling? Should we in adult education not turn this fear around and enrich the lifetime cycle of learning with all our experiences from outside the classroom, from non-formal and informal, from self-organized and self-directed forms of education and training?

Who is preparing what kind of learning agenda for adult education in the near future? Where are our societies heading in this era of globalization? We need trained manpower, but what skills are needed for the future labour market? Again and again we have retrained unemployed adults for jobs that had already disappeared when the training ended. Who knows best what kind of adult education and training programmes are required, which will not only reflect market forces but will further advance successful mastery of information technologies?

There is no need to repeat that we need government input into adult education as much as we do for the other pillars of the education system. And this goes beyond policy, legislation and financing, to include training and accreditation.

However, we also need much more acceptance of the role of government in supporting in many ways the adult education provided by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other community based organisations (CBOs). They cover a whole range, from civic and environmental concerns to training provision for profit, courses run by churches and trade unions, farmers' associations and workshops on gender mainstreaming. All in all there is no doubt that this important provision is far more than government alone does or could do. But do these NGOs receive the recognition, respect and support j that they need and de-serve?

The role of universities is changing, and they are being transformed into institutions of life-long learning. Past students come back for all types of postgraduate degrees. A new balance is being created between the old type of extra-mural courses and the many new academic courses for adult students. The role of the universities in adult education is thus continuing to expand. We also need their leadership and support for research in our field, which will help us to develop adult education as a strong academic discipline. And they have a vital role in training the future generation of adult education professionals, and in upgrading existing staff.

Benchmarks for participation rates in different countries used to concentrate on numbers of pupils in secondary schools and students in higher education. Today, there are beginning to be benchmarks for participation rates in adult education. However, these are difficult to apply, especially when we go beyond formal, highly institutionalized adult education providers. But it is important to start preparing a system to collect relevant statistics on a global level.

Objectives, Activities and Outputs

The findings of the Commission will be important in all areas of adult education, be it more non-formal, formal or informal, with a more general or a more vocational or retraining perspective. Attention may also be given to new forms of e-learning and blended learning. The various dimensions and responsibilities of government, the various providers, learners and other stakeholders, should be looked into as well. Therefore, the Commission may wish to include a wide geographical and political spread of representatives of the governmental, NGO and private sectors, at the national and the local level, as well as relevant professional bodies.

There is concern that inequality still persists despite policies, legislation and funding arrangements to ensure equal opportunities for women and men, as well as for disabled persons. There is a need to document this reality, to analyse the reasons and to suggest possible changes, including special financial support.

The Commission aims to collect information on policies, legislation and structures for organizing and financing adult education. Relevant models have been developed by governments, NGOs, CBOs, and all kinds of providers. There are schemes for small and larger companies, for successful learners, returning dropouts, savings accounts and other ways of funding education, tax reductions for investment in education, and proposals to align legislation more closely to the requirements of a system of lifelong learning. There is a growing view of adult education financing as an investment. However, interested parties still have limited knowledge of the resources needed and of how they are provided, how the adult education sector functions in different countries, and what works best under what conditions. The information and materials to be collected by the Commission will be highly relevant.

Case studies may look deeper into the policy situation in some countries. A variety of strategies for financing adult education within lifelong learning may be analysed in the context of economic and social demand, labour market requirements, and whether they actually increase participation, especially among previous non-participants. Results need to be documented and made available. Recommendations need to be made, drawing on a range of experience. Models for adult education policies and legislation ought to be constructed.

Those interested in the historical dimension may want to look at the content of the ICAE document, "Adult learning: A design for action", which was discussed and adopted by ICAE World Assembly participants in Dar es Salaam in 1976, and may want to compare it with the recommendations on adult education that came out of UNESCO`s General Conference in the same year in Nairobi.

Special attention needs to be given to the need to understand better the ways and means of financing adult education in North-South funding streams. Development aid is increasing on a global scale. But whether it is available for adult learning is still to be seen. If possible, recommendations should be developed for international agencies.


Colleagues who are interested in working in and for the Commission are invited to contact the convenor. Please send us your ideas, suggestions, opinions, research results, materials and documents. Depending on the feed-back, we shall decide how to organize communications and to divide the work between us.

Most of the work will be based on ICT, especially e-mail, maybe using websites for extended information, documentation and communication.

Later we shall decide how we can share the findings during the ICAE World Assembly: as information beforehand, during a plenary, or within a workshop.


Delors, J. (Ed.): Learning: The treasure within. Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century. Paris: UNESCO 1996.
EAEA: Adult education trends and issues in Europe. Brussels: EAEA 2006.
Hall, B.L, Roby Kidd (eds.): Adult learning: A design for action. Oxford: Pergamon Press 1978.
ICAE: Agenda for the future six years later. Montevideo: ICAE 2003.
OECD: Beyond rhetoric. Adult learning policies and practices. Paris: OECD 2003.

Adult Education and Development


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