Exclusive: Adult learners drop to 20-year low

The number of adults currently learning at lowest point since 1996, Learning and Work Institute survey finds

George Ryan

The number of adults reporting they are learning is at its lowest level since it started being surveyed 22 years ago

The number of adults reporting they are learning is at the lowest level since in more than two decades, Tes can reveal.

In 1996, the then National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace) started asking a representative sample of 5,000 people if they were currently learning. The adult participation in learning survey encompasses a broad definition of learning that includes “practising, studying or reading about something” or “being taught, instructed or coached”.

For the first time,  the historic survey data has been made available by the Learning and Work Institute, Niace’s successor. It reveals a steady decline from the high point of 2001, when 46 per cent of respondents reported taking part in some form of learning, to a record low of just 36 per cent last year.

'We have an extraordinary situation'

Chief executive Stephen Evans said participation in learning is falling when it needs to be rising.

“We definitely need to invest more in learning. But we also need to continue to find new ways to engage people in learning and allow them to learn more flexibly, to fit around life and work. If we don’t, we’re storing up problems for our economy. Given our ageing population and rapid economic change, people will need to constantly learn and adapt.”

Sir Alan Tuckett, former chief executive of Niace from 1988 to 2011, who is now a professor of education at the University of Wolverhampton, said the drop in participation was significant, adding: “It is lower than it ever has been. I think we have an extraordinary situation where there has never been a better case for adult learning.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Whether it’s young people who are starting their careers or adult learners wanting to improve their skills, we want everyone to have access to high-quality education to make sure no one is left behind.

“By 2020, funding available to support adult FE participation, including the adult education budget, 19 plus apprenticeship funding and advanced learner loans, is planned to be higher than at any time in England’s history.”

This is an edited version of an article in the 9 November edition of Tes. You can read the full version here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click hereTes magazine is available at all good newsagents

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George Ryan

George Ryan

George Ryan is a further education reporter for tes

Find me on Twitter @GeorgeMRyan

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