The Niace inquiry into adult education is intended to report in early 2009, aiming to influence the three-year public sector budgets due to be set that year.
In the first nine months, the commission, led by Tom Schuller, who has left the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to take on the job, will hold gather evidence, with an interim report due in autumn 2008.
A second phase is expected to involve drawing up a national strategy to address four main questions: what support does adult education need; who are the beneficiaries; what kinds of knowledge are important; and who should pay for it? The context for this is globalisation, ageing populations, greater migration and technological change.
Sir David Watson, chairman of the commission, said: "We want to make sensible, achievable and non-partisan recommendations. Many of these will necessarily be about public policy and expenditure, but others will be about pedagogy, practice and effective spaces for personal development. Above all, we are conscious that we are trying to get issues right that are not only high stakes for our society in the 21st century, but also long-haul in their significance and impact."
The final report will look at the contribution adult education could make to reducing poverty, economic competitiveness and innovation, social cohesion, citizenship and belonging in a diverse society, as well as general well-being.
Alan Tuckett, director of Niace, said: "Tom Schuller is an outstanding adult educator. There's no one better qualified to shape the work of the commission. Above all, he has an ability to see problems afresh. We're delighted to have secured him for the inquiry."
Other commission members come from colleges, universities, trade unions, businesses and branches of Government.