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12 February 2016

Kick-off Meeting in Hannover

On February 11th and 12th, 2016, the project partners met in Hannover, Germany to start the…
07 September 2016

Conference in Switzerland

Adult Learning Conference in Switzerland: September 2016
29 September 2016

Partner Meeting in Copenhagen

29-30 September 2016: Second partner meeting in Copenhagen to discuss the (almost) finalised…
04 April 2017

Partner Meeting in Porto

The first multiplier event of the Finale projectc was held in Porto, Portugal, on 5 April 2017. It…
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06 December 2017

Meeting and Multiplier Event in Brussels

6 December 2017: Final event and multiplier event in Brussels, Belgium

Why Invest in Adult Learning?

By Gerhard Bisovsky

This is a preliminary (work-in-progress) version of the article. Contributions and comments to the author are welcome.

Adult education is effective and investments in adult education by the state, the economic sector and also individuals pay off.

The effects of adult education overlap to the greatest extent possible with the effects of initial education.[1] The transfer of learning outcomes obtained from adult education is more direct and also quicker than in initial education or training that is part of the formal educational system. Adult learners are already employed or accept a new job soon after successfully completing a continuing education programme and put their knowledge and skills into practice immediately. Non-formal adult education in particular can react very quickly to new requirements and promotes innovation in this context with workplace related learning. In addition, adult education builds bridges to the formal educational system and offers paths of learning to the higher education system and in the tertiary sector. One study by the German Institute for Adult Education (DIE) and the Institute for Education and Socio-Economic Research and Consulting comes to the conclusion that adult education is particularly significant for innovation[2].

Particularly important are the key competences[3] that provide the basis for the educational system. Adult education makes it possible to refresh and upgrade one's key qualifications since they change in reaction to technological and economic development.

Adult education has an effect on the individual, the economy and society.

The effects can be summarized as follows. Effects on the individual have an impact in turn on economic and societal development, the converse of which is also true.


Monetary effects



Basic education

Skills and qualifications


General well-being


Health (mental and physical)

Social benefits

Voluntary activities

Activities for society

Civic commitment

The economy

Innovative capacity

Employee skills and competences

Participation in learning processes



Innovation and motivation


Social effects and sustainability



Reduction in criminal activity

Effects on living together

Social cohesion


Living together

Budgetary effects

Tax payments

Transfer payments

Return on investment

Monetary effects

Adults with a tertiary degree earn more than adults who have a secondary degree (second stage), who in turn earn more than adults with training under the level of a secondary degree (second stage). If adults with a secondary degree (second stage) with earned income are taken as the standard of comparison, adults without a degree earn around 20 per cent less, adults with a post-secondary, non-tertiary degree earn around 10 per cent more and adults with a tertiary degree earn around 60 per cent more. [4]

A similar effect can be seen at a higher level of skills and competences.


Adequate basic competences in reading, writing, arithmetic and computer literacy are fundamental to improving employability. They contribute to combating poverty and have an effect on income.

The employment rate and income rise as the level of education and level of competence increase. For adults with a tertiary degree, the probability is 23 percentage points higher that their monthly income is in the top 25 per cent than for adults whose highest level of education is a secondary degree (second stage) or a post-secondary, non-tertiary degree.[5]


Conducted in multiple European countries, the BeLL study[6] has shown that participation in adult learning goes hand in hand with better personal well-being. Between 70 and 87 per cent spoke of positive changes from taking a course in terms of motivation to learn, social contacts, general well-being and life satisfaction. Furthermore, great changes appeared in health consciousness and also openness and tolerance. The effects are the largest with people with a low level of education and of qualifications.

Social benefits

As part of the PIAAC[7], adults with higher competences did better on average in terms of voluntary activities, interpersonal trust and political effectiveness (i.e. whether a person believes he or she is able to influence what the government does) in particular.

When the impacts on society as a whole are compared across all educational groups, the greatest differences are found between adults with a level of education lower than a secondary degree (second stage) and adults with a tertiary degree in the areas of political effectiveness and interpersonal trust. The share of adults who responded that they have an influence on what the government does (political effectiveness) increases with each additional level of education that has been completed.[8]

Innovative capacity

Innovative capacity is promoted by the level of education and of qualifications as well as by the skills of a company's employees as well as freelance workers. Participation in lifelong learning and independent learning are key to innovation and productivity.

Around 57 per cent of employed adults with good competences in the areas information and communications technologies (ICT) and problem solving participate in employee sponsored formal and/or non-formal professional development and continuing education; this is true for only 9 per cent of adults without computer experience and without problem solving competences.[9]

Participation in adult learning goes hand in hand with an improvement in the motivation to continue learning and self-confidence in learning.


Knowledge and skills make a substantial contribution to productivity and an improvement in the competitiveness of the economy. Adult education course offerings take into account the needs of the economy; they support people entering or reentering the job market or those looking for access to the job market after a period of unemployment. The path to becoming self-employed is also supported by adult education.[10]

Social effects and sustainability

Society as a whole benefits from further kinds of returns from education such as higher productivity, better state of health, longer life expectancy and other positive societal impacts. Through appropriate measures, adult education contributes to reducing criminal activity, and investments in the infrastructure of adult education guarantee sustainable growth.

Effects on living together

Social cohesion, tolerance and a willingness to live together based on human rights and mutual respect are central topics of societal development. In the BeLL study, adult learners report on these effects of attending a course.

People with better basic competences are more active in civil society than those with few basic competences.[11]

Budgetary effects

Investment in adult education pays dividends to the state as well. A higher level of education and of qualifications counteracts poverty, improving employability and ultimately income. More employed people and better qualified people have higher income taxes and social insurance contributions as a result, and it can also be assumed that they will receive fewer transfer payments from the government. From this perspective, investment in education also generates revenue for the state.

Return on investment

Returns from adult learning can be assessed as highly as those from initial education.[12] Several studies show that investments in adult education can be recouped, for example through higher wages and improved employability.[13]

A study by the Research Institute for Vocational Training and Adult Education at Johannes Kepler University Linz (Lankmayer/Niederberger/Rigler 2015) measured the overall benefit to society of a socio-economic company. The result was that during the funding year, a large share of investments that had been made (86 per cent) returned to the public sector. The central benefits are: stabilization of living conditions, adoption of social responsibility, positive impacts on the social environment, strengthening of personal resources, improvement of state of health and growth in competence and environmental protection.


From an economic perspective, it appears that public investment in adult education pays off and that benefits exist for individuals, the economy and society.

[1] Thematic Working Group on "Financing Adult Learning" (2013). Final Report. Brussels. P. 18. Online: [7.5.2016]

[1] See TWG on "Financing Adult Learning" (2013), p. 18

[2] Deutsches Institut für Erwachsenenbildung (DIE) & Forschungsinstitut für Bildungs- und Sozialökonomie (FIBS) (2013): Final Report. Developing the Adult Learning Sector. Lot 2: Financing the Adult Learning Sector. (Contract EAC 2012-0073) Berlin, 27 August 2013. Online: [20.05.2015]

[3] Cf. Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 on key competences for lifelong learning (2006/962/EC). Online: [20.05.2016]

[4] Education at a Glance 2015. OECD Indicators. Revised edition, 27 January 2016. Online:

[5] Education at a Glance, p. 32

[6] 1 Jyri Manninen, Irena Sgier, Marion Fleige, Bettina Thöne-Geyer, Monika Kil, Ester Možina, Hana Danihelková, David Mallows, Samantha Duncan, Matti Meriläinen, Javier Diez, Simona Sava, Petra Javrh, Natalija Vrečer, Dubravka Mihajlovic, Edisa Kecap, Paola Zappaterra, Anina Kornilow, Regina Ebner, Francesca Operti (2014): Benefits of Lifelong Learning in Europe: Main Results of the BeLL-Project. Research Report. Online: [07.05.2014]

[7] Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies

[8] Education at a Glance, p. xxxxxx

[9] Education at a Glance, p. 33

[10] Cf. the indicators in: Thematic Working Group on Quality in Adult Learning. Final Report. Online:

[11] Cf. PIAAC

[12] Thematic Working Group on "Financing Adult Learning" (2013). Final Report. Brussels. P. 18. Online: [7.5.2016]

[13] See TWG on "Financing Adult Learning" (2013), p. 21.



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+1 #1 Heinz Meier 2016-06-15 09:02
Quite interesting perspective! Thank you!

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