Now it is official: Investment in Adult Learning pays off!

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Ricarda Motschilnig | 02.12.2014 | Science - Articles

Adult education (manager training) - Photo: Akademie KlausenhofA research study in nineteen selected European and non-European countries[1] shows that the returns to adult learning are substantial and accrue to the economy, individuals and society. The analysis suggests that adult learning is even more important for innovation performance than higher education. This is explained with the fact that for example learning in the workplace through task complexity is the most important driver for innovation performance.

The researchers go even further in suggesting that it could be more beneficial to invest in adult education first as returns to adult education are sometimes even higher and arise much faster than for school and early childhood education.

Focusing on economic benefits, a positive relationship was identified between adult learning and economic growth: countries with higher growth rates show higher adult learning participation rates during the last five years. As a result it can come to income benefits and reduced unemployment rates.

Funding needs to be targeted at those in need

According to the Adult Education Survey, the average participation rate in EU countries increased from 35 to 41% between 2007 and 2011. While participation rates in adult learning are still increasing with education attainment and decreasing with age, the gap between low- and higher qualified and younger and older persons narrowed in most countries. This might indicate that a focus was placed on underrepresented groups in recent years.

Participation rates are higher in countries, where individuals pay less in relation to their income. Individuals contribute up to 20% of the costs in countries with high and up to 40% in countries with lower participation rates. Frequently persons with lower formal qualifications and income levels indicate costs as an obstacle.  Therefore the authors of the study suggest keeping the costs for the individual low, through state funding and funding from employers. However this leads to the alarming finding that in particular public funding policies are often linked to increasing deadweight effects if not well targeted. In order to avoid this, the funding should be well targeted to the needs of the learners.

Higher spending increases participation rates

Countries that spend at least 1% of GDP on adult learning, reach participation rates of almost 60%, with employers being the biggest financiers of adult learning (50% of overall spending). Sadly the effectiveness of these spending figures can very often put into question, as some countries show comparatively high spending figures in relation to their participation rate. Unfortunately this research also confirms that in the countries only very little is spent on non-vocational adult learning, which is at the utmost 10 to 15% of the overall budget for adult learning.

Comprehensive lifelong learning strategies and culture is essential

Countries with lower participation rates commonly employ some specific funding models for older people, with often very limited take-up rates. While countries with high participation rates often employ open access policies, in the sense that funding is available to all adults and through a small number of instruments.  Also although countries spend a lot on second chance adult learning (e.g. up to € 11,000 per participant), participation rates are mostly very limited. Consequently some countries seem to experience even increasing rates of low qualified. Therefore the study suggests that “funding policies need to take into consideration that accompanying measures are required to combat low participation rates of low-qualified in adult learning, aiming to surmount the various barriers of low qualified to adult learning, e.g. proactive information, advice and guidance, tailored learning modes etc.”

Therefore: it is about addressing the individuals and their needs.


Conducted by the German Institute for Adult Education (DIE) and the Institute for Education and Socio-Economic Research and Consulting (FiBS) in 2013 prepared for the European Commission, DG Education and Culture. The overall aim of the study is to enhance the knowledge on the (wider) benefits of and effects of funding volumes, systems and instruments in the field of adult learning in general as well as for specific adult target groups and areas (second chance education, basic skills provision, etc.).


Link to the study:


Adult Education Survey 2007 and 2011:

[1] Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, United Kingdom, Norway, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, Korea, USA. 


Topics/Keywords: Science => Research
Subjects / Target groups => Key qualifications
Subjects / Target groups => Information society
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About the author

ricardaRicarda Motschilnig is working as Policy Officer for EAEA, monitoring and follow up of Lifelong Learning policy and responsible for the coordination and administration of strategic European projects and networks in lifelong learning. She is a member of the editorial board of InfoNet and LLine ( 




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