pound;4bn tab to fund lifelong learning

The Scottish Executive estimates that lifelong learning by over-16s accounts for around pound;4 billion of expenditure in Scotland.

Figures from the first comprehensive set of statistics on the subject show that direct spending has increased from pound;1.6 billion to pound;1.9 billion in the current year, mostly in funding to colleges and universities.

The amount is then topped up by the contribution of employers to training (pound;1.5 billion), benefits to parents and students, spending on pupils in S5 and S6, and payments by individuals and families (estimated at pound;293 million a year, or pound;93 per adult).

The statistics also suggest that 74 per cent of working age people, or 2.3 million, are engaged in some form of learning. Around 1.2 million are college and university students or in work-related training.

Despite these baseline figures, the indicators the Executive uses to chart the progress of its lifelong learning strategy do not indicate any spectacular leaps forward.

There are six targets:

* Reduce the proportion of 16-19s not in employment, education or training (the NEET group): this has hardly changed in the past five years, standing at 13.2 per cent against 15 per cent in 1999.

* Increase support for 16-19s from low income families to stay on at school or college: school staying-on rates have risen from 42 per cent a decade ago to just over 45 per cent last year, although this does not take account of education maintenance allowances which were paid out to 20,200 students between August 2004 and January this year.

* Increase graduates as a proportion of the workforce: the figure has risen from 15 per cent in 1997 to 22 per cent in 2004, meaning an additional 138,000 graduates.

* Reduce the proportion of working-age adults whose highest qualification is below Standard grade 1-2 (level 5 on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework): this has seen a steady drop from 28 per cent in 1992 to 19 per cent in 2004, a decrease of 299,000.

* Reduce the proportion of 18-29s whose highest qualification is below SCQF level 6 (Higher passes): a fall from 38 per cent in 1997 to 31 per cent in 2004, a decrease of 81,000.

* Increase the proportion of people in employment undertaking training: the figures have gone up from 23 per cent in 1995 to 29 per cent in 2004, an increase of 162,000 (excluding full-time students).

The figures also rank Scotland with the rest of the UK and other countries in terms of workforce qualifications. These show that Scotland has 16 per cent of people of working age with no or low qualifications (ranked sixth among the UK regions), 29 per cent with upper secondary qualifications (first in the UK) and 16 per cent who have a degree (third in the UK).

These are 2002 figures.

According to the international statistics, Scotland is exactly on the OECD average of countries for the proportion of those aged from 25 to 64 with higher education qualifications - 15 per cent - but some way behind the top performers, Norway and the United States on 28 per cent.

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