OECD: Adult education needs 'sustainable' funding

UK and other nations 'need to urgently scale-up and upgrade their adult learning systems', says report

Stephen Exley

adult education, AEB, Adult education budget, funding, FE funding

The UK’s adult education system is in need of “adequate and sustainable financing” and more flexible learning opportunities, according to a major international report.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) today publishes a report called Getting Skills Right: future-ready adult learning systems, which argues that many developed nations “need to urgently scale-up and upgrade their adult learning systems to help people adapt to the future world of work” to prepare for new technologies, globalisation and an ageing population.

A separate document looks at the UK’s performance in closer detail, pointing out that “structural changes are putting the United Kingdom’s adult learning system under mounting strain, although less so than in other OECD countries.”

'Better access to upskilling' needed

While the “share of adults with low levels of cognitive skills is below the OECD average, it is worrying that skill levels of young adults do not exceed those of older adults despite their higher levels of educational attainment”, it adds.

Unless this is addressed, “the competitiveness of the country is likely to suffer”, the report states.  ”The adult learning system should give adults more and better access to upskilling and reskilling opportunities to increase their resilience in light of these structural changes and skill issues.”

The lack of flexible training opportunities is also described as “a typical obstacle to higher participation rates” with distance learning only making up 14 per cent of training.

'Adequate and sustainable financing'?

Reflecting on adult education globally, the OECD report states: “Adult learning systems need adequate and sustainable financing to function well. While there is no benchmark for a sufficient level of financing, what is certain is that adult learning currently receives less funding compared to other education areas.

"Moreover, in the context of the economic crisis and constrained government budgets, many countries report declining public investments in adult learning.”

Time to reverse 'deep cuts'

In September, a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that funding for adult education had been cut by 45 per cent since 2009-10.

In response to the OECD report, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The world of work is changing is rapidly. But those most in need of skills and re-training aren’t getting the help they need. Without more investment in workforce learning and training, Britain’s skills shortages will get worse.

“If the government wants to get people ready for automation it must reverse its deep cuts to further education and adult learning. These services are vital for boosting skills and productivity now and into the future.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We know that in an age of fast-evolving industry and economy, the ability to retrain is more important than ever to a lasting and successful career.

“This is why are we are launching the National Retraining Scheme, to equip people with the skills they need to redirect their careers, and secure better, more stable jobs for the future.

“In October 2018, the chancellor announced an initial £100 million so we can begin rolling out of elements of the National Retraining Scheme.  This funding will allow us to start delivering parts of the service to the public, as well as evaluate and learn as it progresses.”

Six ways to boost the UK’s adult education

  1. Improve the coverage of adult learning by raising awareness among adults and employers about the benefits of training, and helping them make informed training choices.
  2. Reduce barriers to training participation, by making opportunities flexible and adapted to the needs of adult learners.
  3. Put in place targeted training incentives and support services to engage adults with weak labour market attachment in training.
  4. Assist employers, and especially SMEs, in thoroughly assessing their skill needs and developing effective skills development plans that address these needs.
  5. Assist the transition of adults employed in jobs undergoing structural changes, by providing targeted support measures and training incentives.
  6. Put in place adequate and sustainable financing, including through public funding and incentives for employers and individuals to contribute.



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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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