Zvonka Pangerc Pahernik

Incentives and Obstacles to Financing Youth and Adult Education – The Case of Slovenia



At present, in line with the overall financial and socio-economic crisis, the Slovenian adult education is facing difficulties. In spite of the high EU indicator value1 on “Participation of 25 to 64 year-olds in lifelong learning” (formal, non-formal and informal education and training) ranking Slovenia sixth in the EU (and first among the younger member states), adult education experts have been trying to draw attention to structural problems hidden behind this favourable result. All the more so, since it gives policy-makers the wrong message: that no immediate incentives, especially financial ones, are called for in the field. In reality however, adult education is confronting several challenges that need to be addressed by joint efforts from all stakeholders. Before getting engaged too deeply in the current situation, let us see whether anything could be learned from the past, dating back twenty years and more.

Slovenia is a small Central European country (surface area 20.273 km2, pop-ulation approx. 2 Mio) located on the edge of the Balkan Peninsula. Formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and after 1945 one of the six constituents of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugo-slavia, Slovenia obtained international legal recognition of its independence in 1991. It then began rapidly to carry out the transformation of its political, social and economic system from one-party political dictatorship and a system of social self-management to parliamentary democracy and a market economy. As a matter of fact, the transition process had been taking place in the late eighties, leading to the first free parliamentary elections in 1989, and then continued in the nineties.

Slovenian Adult Education in the 80s

The attempts at political, economic and cultural liberation of the country certainly affected processes in the field of adult education (AE). Interestingly, the sector’s situation in the eighties was quite paradoxical: on one hand, strategic documents on socio-economic development envisaging a rapid development of the young country emphasised the need for better educated human capital. It was clear that this goal could not be obtained quickly and efficiently enough by improving the education system for children and youth only. Therefore, the importance of adult education was acknowledged, and the need for adequate supply was strongly emphasised.

On the other hand, after a relatively flourishing period marked by adult education being porated in strategic papers an independent field oriented mainly towards vocational education and training as well as socio-political education for self-management, adult education experienced a severe crisis, based mainly on two regrettable ideological orientations:

  • the so-called “career oriented education system” which led to unification of the education of children and youth and the education of adults; as a result, in practice adult education became a kind of step-child of youth education, very ‘school-like’ and therefore less attractive to participants; in that period the number of participants in formal secondary AE dropped drastically, from about 20,000 to 3,000
  • the “joining of work and education”, based on the assumption that workers and their employees would take care of the identification and fulfilment of their educational needs, and that funding would be provided by work organisations and other beneficiaries; thus, the state was relieved from any responsibility in this regard, AE ceased to be financed from the public budget, and due to the economic crisis, funding by work organisations diminished too.

Resulting from these concepts and due to seemingly progressive educational reforms, the Slovenian AE system was theoretically well-off. In practice this was not the case: first, the network of adult education providers deteriorated seriously – adult education centres, i.e. so called “workers universities” or “folk high-schools” – were not allowed to deliver formal AE anymore, schools were short of proper know-how for educating adults, and educational centres within work organisations suffered from lack of funding. Secondly, expert centres at national level (the Association of Workers’ Universities, the Adult Education Unit at the National Education Institute, and the Association of Educational Centres of Slovenia) which had taken care of the conceptualisation, development and implementation of adult education were abolished, i.e. their financing ceased or was severely reduced. Clearly, the adult education sector was not in good shape when it was expected to face the serious challenges that began to manifest themselves with the rise of the new state.

Nevertheless, in 1984, a dedicated group of professionals, gathered in the Slovenian Adult Education Association, in cooperation with individuals vested with social and political functions, triggered the formulation of a long-term programme of adult education development and gradually started to implement it, both through research dealing with concepts and strategies in AE, and through the introduction of new, practical approaches.

Slovenian Adult Education in the Nineties

1991 was a very important milestone not only in Slovenia’s history but also in its adult education. Noteworthy from that period is the publication “Education in Slovenia for the 21st Century: Adult Education (1991)” in which AE was defined as an independent field for the first time in Slovenia, and expert grounds for its further development were laid. At that point and throughout the first half of the nineties, some fundamental developments in different areas can be observed:


  • first of all, the Slovenian Government started to provide special funds for the development of adult education,
  • the Ministry of Education and Sport (MES) started to prepare a special act on adult education,
  • within the MES a special adult education unit was formed, 
  • the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs (MLFSA) established an advisory post for adult education, 
  • the MES commissioned the preparation of expert foundations for an Adult Education Master Plan (National Programme) which would determine programmes and providers of special importance for national development of AE, 
  • an independent adult education study course was offered by the Ljubljana Faculty of Arts, last but not least, the Slovenian Institute for Adult Education (SIAE) was founded to facilitate and direct the development of adult education in the country.

These developments were backed by an urgent need to introduce measures that would contribute to the improvement of the educational and qualification structure of the population. According to statistical data, in 1991 around 50 % of the labour force and approximately 40 % of the employed were practically without formal qualifications. As a result of a growing demand, the regional distribution of adult education providers and programmes spread. It was markedly enlarged by many emerging private providers.

In support of the adult education network, the Slovenian Institute for Adult Education (SIAE) became the indispensable umbrella institution connecting and balancing key interests of various stakeholders, and mediating them to the responsible state authorities. The Institute combined professional arguments with the needs and opinions of main actors in the field, including civil society, thus promoting the development of the adult education system and practice. SIAE’s standpoints were underpinned by international comparative studies which substantiated the need of the state to ascertain stable conditions for the accelerated development of adult education thorough its measures and regulations.

The conceptual foundations for the development of AE were laid out by the “White Paper on Education and Upbringing” (1995), and elaborated further by the umbrella Act, the “Organisation and Financing of Education Act” (1996), which defines the aims of the whole education system and the ways of its organisation and financing. In the same year a package of five special acts was issued, each regulating one of the educational subsystems according to either level or field of education. One of them is the “Adult Education Act”, the overall law regulating common characteristics of adult education, thus confirming its position as an independent field and its inclusion in the system of public financing. This Act introduced the concept of an Adult Education Master Plan as the basis for positioning and financing AE provision and especially to create a balance between education and training for work on one hand, and more general adult education directed to personal and community needs on the other hand.

In the late nineties, preparation of the expertise needed for the final preparation of the Adult Education Master Plan (AEMP) was carried out. Meanwhile AE was financed via public tenders with the professional support of SIAE, and in line with its attempts to introduce new forms and methods in AE as well as new approaches to AE programming. As a result of analyses that had shown discrepancies affecting educationally deprived categories of population, special attention was being paid to the introduction of innovations in the field of non-formal AE. These endeavours were envisaged to counteract the supply generated by the private AE sphere, which had blossomed in the period of transition and mainly developed education programmes for the relatively well-educated part of population and of high market demand.


The Turning Point: the 2004 Adult Education Master Plan

Without doubt, the adoption of the “Resolution on the Adult Education Master Plan (AEMP) until 2010” was one of the most significant achievements in the field of adult education in Slovenia. It was the final step in a nearly ten-year process of preparing the grounds for a new adult education policy and practice, designed to assure balanced and stable development of the field.

Above all, the AEMP was designed as a strong incentive for the increase of investment by all adult education stakeholders – individuals, community, enterprises and state. It was meant to link a range of actors in order to shape an effective environment at the national level. The AEMP defined goals (and benchmarks), priority fields, activities and the approximate extent of public funds for AE in three fields:

  • general non-formal education
  • education for raising formal educational attainment
  • education and training for the labour market

It also encompassed infrastructural activities, such as the professional development of adult educators, quality issues, information and guidance, research and development projects, information and promotion services, etc.

Since 2005, the implementation of the AEMP and its concrete funding has been determined by the Annual Adult Education Programme (AAEP), adopted by the government and previously coordinated with the governments consultative body, i.e. the Adult Education Expert Council (in charge of organisation, quality and efficiency of AE). The subsequent organisation of education is defined in annual plans of organisations which carry out adult education according to publicly valid educational programmes. Adults are enabled to participate in individual programmes on the basis of public tenders.

Since Slovenia joined the EU, the European Social Fund has become an additional source for financing adult education. These funds have been channelled into developmental projects furthering mainly higher educational achievement and employability, literacy, training of adult educators, quality, and information and guidance in adult education.

The implementation of the AEMP and subsequent Annual Programmes is meant to be subject to thorough monitoring, analyses and reporting to the National Council. However, due to its huge complexity, endeavours for setting up an adequate information system are just beginning to bear first results. Findings stemming from the latter may confirm (or not) the coherence of the AEMP structure and above all reveal the (in)efficiency of its translation into AE practice.

The Present Situation

The system of AE, especially its regulation, governance and financing, is subject to rethinking with regard to the sufficiency of funds, efficiency of their use, and equality of their distribution. In contrast to relatively good performance of Slovenian AE regarding EU and some national indicators, a more thorough examination reveals several structural issues stemming (also) from inadequate financing. Due to the lack of precise monitoring, transparency and accountability of AE financing, its efficiency as well as the estimation of its broader impact is presently undergoing debate. An additional obstacle to better performance of the AE (financing) system is the lack of proper infrastructure – the autonomous and high-quality development and research initially expected to be ensured by the Slovenian Institute for Adult Education.

A detailed presentation of all current issues would exceed the scope of this paper. Therefore let us mention only the most outstanding:

  • Although from a declarative viewpoint the present adult education system seems satisfactory, in practice, it is still treated as a supplement of the educational system for children and youth.
  • The Adult Education Act as it is now cannot be regarded as an umbrella act, therefore it is in strong need of renovation. Presently, it is focused on non-formal AE primarily, whereas other, even key, aspects of AE are regulated by above-mentioned educational acts. Suggestions have been forwarded to the MES emphasising among other things that the right of educationally deprived  groups should be adequately defined in the AE Act, and the obligations of local communities should become clearly binding.
  • Total public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP in Slovenia according to Eurostat was 6.02 % in 2003 and 5.96 % in 2004. Due to methodological issues, there is no reliable data as to what the percentage for AE in terms of GDP might be. The last data are from 1995 and indicate 0.08 % of GDP for AE, or only 2.2 % of all public funds for education. The estimation is that by 2007 the share is still far from having reached the amount which has become the practice in the most developed EU countries, i.e. 1 % of GDP or 10 % of all public funds for education. We may conclude that the present system of financing still does not assure adequate access, equality and quality of AE. With the exception of primary AE, it depends more on the availability of state funds than on real needs of priority groups and society as a whole, therefore fixed and stable financing of the public AE network is being suggested.
  • Ideally, financing of adult education is foreseen from the state budget and budgets of local communities. However, although the contribution of all public sectors is envisaged, only the Ministry of Education and Sport (responsible mainly for formal and general non-formal AE) and the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs (responsible for financing AE for better employability) are performing their duties. At the local level, municipalities are expected to contribute to the implementation of the AAEP, but in reality the majority support primary adult education only, and following their obligation as their founders, they (co-)finance the staff, premises and maintenance cost of adult education centres (folk high-schools), representing less than 6 % (2006/2007) of all adult education centre income.
  • In the past four-year period, ESF funds have not been engaged in a proper way. The burden of ineligible costs resulting from the lack of clear prior guidelines, absence of advance payments, and long bureaucratic procedures, have led ESF beneficiaries into severe financial difficul-ties. In addition, a considerable amount of ESF money has not been engaged in time, therefore the pertaining national contribu-tions related to the annual budgets have failed to be employed. According to the Final Annual Accounts of the MES Budgets, in the period 2005-2007 only 54 % of funds were employed via MES.
  • The network of AE providers is weakened: in the past decade the share of private AE providers has considerably increased and they have become extremely market oriented, offering mainly courses for the well-educated and situated part of population whereas the public AE network (folk high-schools founded primarily for adult education) has suffered from the above-mentioned phenomena.
  • A more thorough insight into the participation rate mentioned at the beginning of the article shows that adults are engaged mainly in short-term non-formal programmes which favour the professional development of those who have already achieved higher educational levels. Consequently, the economic and social status of those with lower educational attainment and other educationally deprived groups is still not being improved.
  • In recent years, through some interventions of the MES, the position of the Slovenian Institute for Adult Education has weakened considerably. It is becoming increasingly an institution rendering services to the MES, and due to reduced research capacities its role as the initiator of new developments and dialogue among theory, practice and policy has lost ground.


Lessons Learned from the Past that Could Serve to Enhance the Future

Like more than two decades ago, the Slovenian adult education system is facing a crisis that has its specific features and reasons, but is also part of a larger picture and therefore strongly embedded in the overall financial, socio-economic and cultural crisis of the country, and the whole world. Again, the AE sector could and should be engaged in measures that the country has been undertaking lately in order to overcome the present difficult situation.

Some principles that have guided the way before, but somehow got lost along the way, and some new ones, might be the following:

  • A holistic approach to AE should be maintained – integrative, systematic, all-encompassing, on equal terms, and in line with the lifelong learning perspective laid out in Slovenia’s Strategy on Lifelong Learning (2006) but unfortunately not put into operation yet.
  • Special emphasis should be paid to the balance between the humanistic and economic driving motives within adult education and to the role lifelong learning and AE play in the implementation of national development strategies for overall wellbeing.
  • AE legislation and governance should undergo significant changes to assure the appropriateness of the former and greater efficiency of the latter. Both are the basis for adequate financing schemes, but also for cooperation and coordination of all public sector departments.
  • Public financing should primarily support the education of low-qualified and marginal groups of population; the responsibility should lie with national as well as local and emerging regional authorities.
  • A transparent evidence-based system of public financing should guarantee sufficiency of funds, efficiency of their use, and equality of their distribution, the latter not so much in the sense of equal shares for all but in offering more to those who were deprived in the phase of initial education.
  • As far as the AE network is concerned, the transfer of maybe too much attention to the “supply” from the “demand” side should be corrected by involving learners more in shaping policy and provision, by furthering information and guidance services, and by promotion with the aim of awareness-raising, etc. the media should be engaged in these outreach activities.
  • The national focal point, a relatively autonomous expert institution in charge of the development of AE, presently the SIAE, should be entrusted with research work and adequately supported.
  • International cooperation enabling exchange of good practices, mutual empowerment through comparisons and peer learning as well as joint advocacy and lobbying should be furthered.

Obviously, the Slovenian adult education system has already proved its ability to respond proactively to challenging times and to act as one of the vehicles towards a better society and economy. The present crisis should be recognised as an opportunity for setting right some devious steps from the past, and attempting another breakthrough at an even higher professional and policy level.


Analiza uresni evanja Resolucije o Nacionalnem programu izobraževanja odraslih za leti 2005 in 2006 (Analysis of the Implementation of the Resolution on the Adult Education Master Plan for the Years 2005 and 2006), Vlada RS, Ljubljana 2008.

Bela knjiga o vzgoji in izobraževanju v Republiki Sloveniji (White Paper on Education and Upbringing in the Republic of Slovenia), Ministry of Education and Sport, Ljubljana, 1995.

Černoša, S., Bandelj, E.: Slovenian Adult Education in the Context of Lifelong Learning, Lline, 2007, Vol. XII, issue 4/2007, p. 243–251.

Drofenik, O. (et al.): Nacionalni program izobraževanja odraslih, Strokovne podlage zvezek 1, Razvojne usmeritve (Expertise on the Adult Education Master Plan Vol. 1, Development orientations) Slovenian Institute for Adult Education, Ljubljana 1998.

Drofenik, O. (et al.): Nacionalni program izobraževanja odraslih, Strokovne podlage zvezek 2, Cilji, dejavnosti, utemeljitve (Expertise on the Adult Education Master Plan Vol. 2, Objectives, activities and argumentations) Slovenian Institute for Adult Education, Ljubljana 1999.

Education in Slovenia for the 21st Century: Adult Education, Expert grounds, National Education Institute, Ljubljana, 1991.

Final Annual Account of the Ministry of Education and Sport Budget for 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Ivančič, A.: Inspiring story of adult education in Slovenia. Lline, 2003, Vol. VIII, issue 3/2003,

p. 50–55. Jelenc Krašovec, S. , Kump, S.: Sistemsko urejanje izobraževanja odraslih (System Regulation of Adult Education), Sodobna pedagogika Vol. 1/2009, p. 199-216, Ljubljana 2009. Jelenc, Z. (Ed.): Adult Education Research in the Countries in Transition : Research project report, Studies and Researches Vol. 6, Slovenian Institute for Adult Education, Ljubljana 1996. Progress Towards the Lisbon Objectives in Education and Training – Indicators and Benchmarks 2008 Report , Commission Staff Working Document, Commission of the European Communities, Education and Culture, Brussels, SEC (2008) 2293 (available at ec.europa.eu education/lifelong-learning-policy/doc1522_en.htm). Resolucija o nacionalnem programu izobraževanja odraslih do leta 2010 (Resolution on the Adult Education Master Plan until 2010), Ur. l. 70/2004. Strategija vseživljenjskosti u enja v Sloveniji (Strategy on Lifelong Learning in Slovenia), Ljubljana, 2007. Zakon o izobraževanju odraslih (Adult Education Act), Ur.l. 12/1996, 86/2004, 110/ 2006.

Zakon o organizaciji in financiranju vzgoje in izobraževanja (Organisation and Financing ofEducation Act), Šolska zakonodaja I, Ministry of Education and Sport, Ljubljana, 1996.


1 According to the “Progress towards the Lisbon Objectives in Education and Training – Indicators and Benchmarks 2008” Report, the Slovenian participation rate in 2007 is 14.8 % (EU average being 9.7 %); data source: EU Labour Force Survey. 


Adult Education and Development


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