The financing of adult education has a variety of dimensions: from the fragmented nature of the funding to a learner’s and organisation’s perspective to the key challenges at the policy-making level. On 6 December 2017, the FinALE partners organised a workshop in Brussels on the topic of “Adult Education and Learning: Securing recognition and financial sustainability”.
“The systems of funding of adult education vary greatly between the European countries,” said Glenda Quintini, Senior Economist of the OECD and one of the authors of the recent publication on Financial Incentives for Steering Education and Training.
“We can see mega-trends sweeping across the economies which have a profound impact on the types of jobs that are available and the skills required. At the same time, there are also changes in who demands skills and is ready to pay for them: it is increasingly the individuals who would like to invest in their own skills and competences, alongside the employers who have an obvious interest in the upskilling of their workers.”
According to the key findings of the study, this change in demand has a big impact on how adult education is financed, with a trend towards funding by the individuals and employers, and away from public funding. While this general direction may be true for many countries and contexts, it applies particularly to learning required for the workplace. While individuals perceive a growing pressure to invest in their own learning to be able to succeed on the labour market, employers need to stay competitive, which is only possible by improving the skills and competences of their workers.
However, non-formal adult education is much larger and encompasses also all kinds of education for one’s personal fulfilment. Many adult education providers in Europe finance these educational offers through the surplus that they make with their more ‘profitable’ courses, for instance ICT, language or VET courses, trying to keep both sides of adult education in balance.
Derek Murphy, a learner at Soilse Ireland and a champion of adult education, shared his personal learning story.
“I made my first steps back into education through a non-formal course. Once I had a foot in learning, I wanted to continue my education. I moved from having no perspectives to a happy and fulfilled private and professional life.”
Dave O’Brien, director at Soilse, said that without public funding, it would be very difficult to finance – even at the intra-organisational level – programmes like these that reach out to those who are furthest away from learning.
Structural funding needed
Another major trend in the financing of adult education is that when there is public funding, it is increasingly formula funding and project funding, which means funding for the delivery of a specific course or training, often within a certain period and for a pre-defined target group. Consequently, funding for adult education becomes less sustainable and requires a continuous applying for new funding as well as reporting on the funding.
“Non-formal adult education needs structural funding that allows organisations to innovate and to invest in the professionalisation of their staff,” said Gina Ebner, Secretary General of EAEA, referring to the Policy recommendations that were developed in the FinALE project.
This was also underlined by the participants of the workshop. In the last session of the workshop, they were asked to vote on the most important priorities for the funding of adult education. Unanimously, they said that adult education needs to be recognised as an investment, and not as a cost.