János Sz. Tóth

What priority is given to adult education by the European Commission? In October 2006, it published the document "It is never too late to learn". In preparation, EAEA drew up a background paper, "Adult Education Trends and Issues in Europe", and it put forward "indicators and benchmarks of adult learning in the context of lifelong learning" in the paper "Common European Adult Learning Framework". Janós Tóth describes these documents. He has been President of EAEA since 2002. He is from Budapest, Hungary, and is Executive President of the Hungarian Folk High School Society.

Financing of Adult Learning: Results of a Recent Study on Adult Education in Europe

I. Adult Learning: It is Never Too Late to Learn1

The Commission approved the Recommendation on adult learning, a policy document, in October, 2006. It is widely known that the European Union is not authorised to interfere directly in member states' internal affairs, especially not in the fields of education and culture. A policy document, on the other hand, has great effect since it is approved on a consensus basis and it contains high level recommendations for member states.

The Commission discussed adult education as a separate subject for the first time as part of the Lisbon Strategy launched in 2000, and in greater depth for "Education and Training 2010", on the policy development of lifelong learning, training and education. We hope that it is not just the professionals working in and committed to adult education who can see that the greater value now being placed on education and training means that we are ready to put the acknowledgment and systematic development of adult education on the agenda. There are many reasons for the socio-economic role of adult education being at the forefront, besides the wishes of adult educators. Priority is being given to the promotion of economic development, social cohesion and the education and learning demands of migration within an inclusive society. Furthermore, the demographic situation of Europe makes it more important to integrate middle-aged and older employees and the unemployed into the labour market, and this brings to the fore the need for education and lifelong learning in many respects.

The 12-page policy document includes a general assessment of the state of affairs and key recommendations regarding the main areas of development. The document sets out five key messages, which are:

  1. Lift the barriers to participation
  2. Ensure the quality of adult learning
  3. Introduce systems that recognise and validate learning out-comes
  4. Invest in the ageing population and migrants
  5. Be in a position to measure progress.2

II. Adult Education Trends and Issues in Europe

"Adult Education Trends and Issues in Europe" was prepared as a background paper for the above-mentioned policy document. The study was made by a team coordinated by the lead agency of the project, the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA). The key experts in the team were nominated by the European Universities Continuing Education Network (EUCEN), UK and France, DVV International, Germany, Odyssee, the Netherlands, the European Research and Development Institutes for Adult Education (ERDI), the German Institute for Adult Education (DIE), Germany, and the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), UK.3 Given the lack of studies and research findings on the subject, the study set out to examine contradictions and differing interpretations, as well as historical and national backgrounds and discrepancies. Besides all this, the study was also an attempt to clarify controversial concepts. Eventually we decided to accept the widest and most comprehensive definition of adult education, which was used in the "Memorandum on Lifelong Learning" in 2000.4

The study focuses in its main section on three major issues, as part of the overview analysis:

  • legislation, financing and infrastructure
  • participation in adult education
  • demographic challenges and the international and European impact of migration

Following the discussion of the above issues, the study considers the questions that represent the most significant professional challenges, or at least the group of issues that are crucial if we are to make progress. These can be grouped around seven main subjects:

  1. Quality and development in adult education
  2. Recognising and validating other forms of learning
  3. Basic skills and key competencies - emerging issues
  4. Active citizenship and adult learning
  5. Local learning centres, partnerships and decentralisation
  6. The research base for adult education and learning
  7. The training and development of adult education personnel

III. The Common European Adult Learning Framework (CEALF)5

The study pays particular attention to laying the foundations for the creation of a system of measurable aims, objectives and results, in order to effectively monitor the development of adult education. This question has serious implications in terms of financing because most documents, including the Memorandum on Lifelong Learning, contain strong recommendations on increasing investment in lifelong learning. However, assessment reports and studies prepared later report that investment has not grown but has halted instead. This means that if we cannot make a case for investment in adult learning as an appropriate proportion of the investment in the whole of education, it will be very hard to argue why and to what extent it should be in-creased. It will also be very hard to see in retrospect whether there have been any steps forward and, if so, what effects these have had. That is the reason why EAEA decided to formulate a recommendation for a "Common European Adult Learning Framework" to provide more specific and measurable indicators and objectives in the different fields of adult education.

This is not a completely new task, since quality indicators were approved by education ministers in the course of lifelong learning development in 2003. These can be applied to the characteristics of adult learning.

The Fifteen Quality Indicators

The fifteen quality indicators are divided into four areas:

Area A: Skills, competencies and attitudes

  1. Literacy
  2. Numeracy
  3. New skills in the learning society
  4. Learning-to-learn skills
  5. Active citizenship, cultural and social skills

    Area B: Access and participation

  6. Access to adult learning in lifelong learning
  7. Participation in adult learning in the framework of lifelong learning

    Area C: Resources for adult learning

  8. Investment in adult learning
  9. Educators, tutors and training providers
  10. ICT in adult learning

    Area D: Strategies and system development of AL

  11. Strategies of adult learning in the context of lifelong learning
  12. Coherence of supply of AL
  13. Counselling and guidance in AL
  14. Accreditation and certification in AL
  15. Quality assurance and AL

In the "Common European Adult Learning Framework", area C 8 is called "Resources for Adult Learning". When we were planning the creation of finance indicators, we had to consider the characteristics of investment in adult learning. We described the specific features of investment as follows:

"Specification: When discussing investment in AL, it is important to differentiate between the different types of investment. At least three different types should be taken into account:

  1. Public investment
  2. Company investment
  3. Private investment

The investment can be either in cash, time or several forms of contribution in kind (free of charge classrooms, travel, child care, etc.)."

IV. Evidence, Data Available at the Present Time and Trends

First of all, the study needed to examine the data on education in general, and on sub-areas, that were available from other research in order to quantify adult learning investment. We came to the conclusion that there were huge deficits in the data needed to increase the scale and efficiency of investment.

Let us point out a few research findings:

  • Estimated long-term effect on economic output of an additional year of schooling: 3-6 %
  • Social returns from 3.5 to 10.9 %
  • Contribution to productivity differential during the 1990s between 19.5 and 26.5%
  • Estimated social return of adult BS 10-20 %
  • Health benefits up to 40 % of the labour market return on training
  • Net private returns to one additional year of schooling from 4.7 to 6.8%
  • Cost per student across primary and tertiary education USD 6,821 - what about the cost per student in adult learning?
  • More effective and appropriate allocation of resources for adult learning produces increased efficiency savings.

These are all important initial findings, demonstrating what specific economic and financial returns adult learning investment can produce in addition to the numerous benefits of adult learning.

The study suggests the following 6 indicators within CEALF for the initial measurement of adult learning resources:

  1. Expenditure on adult learning as part of total education and train-ing expenditure
  2. The relative shares of financing from different groups in society: individuals, corporations and the state
  3. Breakdown of public, private and corporate funding by different forms of learning (job-related, non-vocational training, key competencies etc.)
  4. Individual earnings of workers with different educational attain-ment, and by level of participation in AL
  5. Cost of adult learning per person in different forms of AL
  6. Indirect public spending on adult learning (tax allowances, tax reductions and expense allowances, and other incentives compared with overall AL expenses)6

V. Implications

Let us summarise a few of our conclusions found in the study and point out the tasks and challenges of the future.

1. The dilemma is: who is willing to pay what portion of the bill?

There has been little progress since 2000: the Memorandum on Lifelong Learning of 2000, and all the other documents that have followed, make the point that investment in learning and training should be increased. How can we motivate individuals, companies and governments to invest with greater efficiency and to a greater extent?

2. Changing the cultural paradigm

We need to change cultural habits and we need greater transparency in public and private financing of learning.

3. Ideology-free indicators and benchmarks

Does the state, private business or the individual handle learning resources better? Unfortunately, there is no commonly accepted system of indicators and benchmarks for the financing of lifelong learning.

4. Decentralisation of financing

Greater harmony is needed between employment strategy and lifelong learning development strategy. First, financing should be as close as possible to the beneficiaries and to the community at the local level, and secondly, we need to reduce the uncoordinated and loose use of existing resources and duplication. Therefore, we need greater harmony between employment, social policy, community development and other programmes, and adult learning financing.

5. Economic and/or non-economic benefits of learning?

These findings show that the non-economic benefits of learning have a significant positive economic effect. We should put an end to the one-sided view that adult learning only has economic advantages and benefits, and that financing priorities need to reflect these alone.

6. Renew labour market policy?

Are traditional labour market tools ineffective and too expensive? Adult learning and learning in general are recognised as instruments to promote local economic growth. Unemployment benefits could be turned into financial support for learners. The self-sustaining self-interest of existing institutions stands in the way of a more efficient financing policy.

7. Every form of learning is of the same importance, even from the point of view of financing

There is a long-standing and oft repeated argument that all forms of learning should be regarded as equal as a policy principle. This view is hard to put into practice and we can only talk about starting to take it seriously when the theory becomes practice among the priorities of financing. The financing and development of "social capital" is as important as, or even more important than, financing "human capital".

8. Are individual competencies the property of the individual, the company or the public?

Financing criteria are set by the people who have the resources and not by the people who do not. Adult learners, organisations and social partners, mostly trade unions, need to participate in planning and financing adult learning programmes.



1 Communication from the Commission COM (2006) 614 final

2 See: http://ec.europa.eu/education/policies/lll/adultcom_en.html

3 See: www.eaea.org Adult education trends and issues

4 "All learning activity undertaken throughout life, with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competences within a personal, civic, and social and/or employment - related perspective."

5 See: www.eaea.org Adult education trends and issues - CEALF

6 See: www.eaea.org Adult education trends and issues - CEALF



Progress Towards the Lisbon Objectives in Education and Training. EU Commission Staff Working Paper, 2005. Brussels, 22.3.2005 SEC (2005) 419

Investing efficiently in education and training: an imperative for Europe. Communica-tion from the Commission, Commission of the European Communities, Brussels, 10.01.2003, COM(2002) 779 final

de la Fuente, Angel. Resources: Investing in human capital. ESCFIN/634/02-EN Commission (PURE project, 2002)

European Learning Account Partnership (ELAP) www.e-lap.org

Lifelong Learning: Citizen's view. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2003 (CEDEFOP)

Project on "Economics of Education"; study on "The Returns to Various Types of Investment in Education and Training", completed by London Economics, December, 2005

Best resources are the reports filed by the specific working groups of 2003-2004 (found in the following link): http://europa.eu.int/comm/education/policies/2010/objectives_en.html


Adult Education and Development


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