The survey, of more than 2,100 people over 16, found that while a clear majority (92 per cent) said people would need more education throughout their lives, 48 per cent of those not engaged in study said nothing would persuade them back into education.
Of the rest, courses that were free (20 per cent) or at a convenient time (19 per cent) were seen as motivating factors among those questioned in a survey for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Time off or a pay rise (both 16 per cent) might also encourage people to return to learning. Childcare facilities were cited by 7 per cent of those surveyed and only 5 per cent were put off by tests or exams.
The findings are a severe blow to government plans to create a learning society. Ministers who were banking on individual learning accounts to remove the financial barriers faced by adult returners - often given as the major factor behind people's reluctance to study - may find they have to overcome other obstacles first.
The cost of educational courses ranked only fourth (12 per cent) among the reasons preventing those not currently studying from enrolling. Most worryingly, 34 per cent of respondents said they had "no interest in further education" - the same proportion who said they lacked the time to study.
Significantly, lack of interest in further education was most pronounced (45 per cent) among those not working - the very group the Government is hoping to engage through its social inclusion policies. The same section of the population is also the hardest to convince of the benefits of study - 63 per cent said nothing would persuade them to go back into education.
Peter Smith, general secretary of the ATL, said: "It is evident that people in Britain do believe in learning 'from womb to tomb' but, at the same time, they feel that there are too many barriers to adult education. Essentially, the Government must realise that serious cash injections need to be made to ensure that courses are accessible to everybody."