THE latest figures on adult learning show that more people are taking advantage of the opportunities on offer - but they tend to be those who already have the most advantages.
And, depressingly for the Scottish Executive, more than half of those in a survey of 475 Scots said they were unlikely to take up learning in the next three years, mainly because they were not interested or had no time.
An analysis of the Scottish figures from the regular UK survey carried out last year by the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education provides mixed messages for ministers as they prepare to launch their lifelong learning strategy next week (page one).
The figures show that the numbers who had taken part in some kind of learning since leaving full-time education had increased from 22 per cent to 44 per cent in 12 years.
Maria Slowey, director of adult and continuing education at Glasgow University, who analysed the findings, said this seemed on the face of it "a dramatic increase in levels of participation in Scotland in recent years.
"In 1999, recorded levels of participation were among the lowest for all UK regions, while in 2002 they are among the highest and higher than the overall UK average of 42 per cent."
Closer scrutiny suggests a more complicated picture - "persistent rather than changing patterns", as Professor Slowey puts it.
Recent learners were significantly more likely to be better qualified with 43 per cent having a degree or equivalent qualification compared with 14 per cent who had not been through recent learning. Almost 40 per cent of those with no recent learning had no qualifications against only 11 per cent of recent learners.
Similar historic patterns affect the school-leaving age profile of learners. Three-quarters of those who had not recently undertaken studies left school at 16, compared with only 42 per cent of recent learners who left at that age.
A quarter of the latter group stayed in full-time education until the age of 21 against just 8 per cent of those with no recent learning.
There are also "significant inequalities" in the social composition of learners - almost half of those who had not undertaken any learning were in the two bottom social class groups compared with 15 per cent from the top two groups who took no part.
Recent learners are also likely to be younger - 58 per cent were aged under 44.