A major public review of Scotland's lifelong learning system is needed, along the lines of the Cubie review of student funding, to address "significant risks and gaps", a leading academic in the sector said last week.
John Field, co-director of the Centre for Research in Lifelong Learning at Stirling University, warned that "socially and economically, levels of participation among older adults are not merely sub-optimal but unacceptable".
Professor Field told the Holyrood conference on "The Future of Adult Learning in Scotland: a demand-led skills strategy" that, even if the Government was satisfied with current skills levels, Scotland's existing skills distribution was "too wide to meet the needs of a knowledge economy".
Although Scotland had a high participation in the 16-39 age group (93 per cent took part in some learning, compared to 86 per cent in England and Wales), the position was reversed when it came to older age groups. Over-all participation in Scotland was "probably lower" than the UK average, he argued, and this should be a significant policy concern in relation to older people, given what was known about learning "as an inhibitor of cognitive decline" and future demographic trends.
Governance of the lifelong learning agenda was "a mess", he said. "Responsibilities are divided between councils, Holyrood and Whitehall in ways that are not always helpful.
"At local council level, community learning is highly vulnerable to budget cuts, as we have seen in the last year. And some key questions for Scottish policy concern the programmes managed by the Department for Work and Pensions.
"It is not immediately clear to me that programmes aimed at helping unemployed people find work are always geared to the requirements of Scottish demography and the Scottish labour market."