A consultation paper on the future of lifelong learning will be published by education and employment ministers later this year.
It will prepare ground for a Green Paper and is expected to cover a broad range of issues, from the preparation of 14-year-olds for the world of work to new initiatives for promoting adult learning.
A Green Paper on adult and continuing education, planned for this summer, was postponed because of the Government reshuffle and merger of the departments for education and employment. There were fears within adult education that it would be ditched.
But ministers are to take advantage of the merger for a more thorough review of all aspects of lifelong learning, many of which were flagged in the recent Competitiveness White Papers.
Leaders of adult education organisations have welcomed the developments as "a sea change" in Government thinking. They have been in bitter conflict with ministers since the 1993 Further and Higher Education Act, which removed vocational adult courses from local education authority control.
The National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education and the Basic Skills Agency argued that it led to cuts in courses, escalating costs and reduced opportunities for an estimated 6 million adults with numeracy and literacy problems.
Preparation of the Green Paper will parallel Britain's contribution to the European Year of Lifelong Learning (1996). Bids are invited from schools, colleges and other organisations for Pounds 6 million from European funds for projects to raise awareness of lifelong learning.
The Government has targeted five priorities for the UK's contribution: adults in work, higher education, information, advice and guidance, adult education and 14 to 19-year-olds preparing for work.
Open and distance learning, and access to education and training for people with learning difficulties and disabilities, will be emphasised.
Bids must be submitted by next Friday to NIACE, which is acting as the European Year information office for England and Wales. In view of the short time available to prepare bids, free briefing sessions are offered to those interested.
The moves have been welcomed by leaders of further and adult education. Alan Wells, director of the Basic Skills Agency, said: "We are encouraged by the Government's priorities, which seem to go far wider than they have in the past.
"In the past, the workforce has been too narrowly defined as those in work or actively seeking work. People such as carers, the disabled and those with health problems precluding them from work miss out."
The Government also appears to have strongly supported the European line in its priorities. Alan Tuckett, director of NIACE, said: "This initiative is a result of Jacques Delors' European White Paper on continuing education which stresses economic health and the need to combat social exclusion."
Bids should be sent to the European Year of Lifelong Learning Information Office, NIACE 21 De Montfort Street, Leicester LE1 7GE, by September 15. Free briefing sessions can be arranged through Helen Prew (0116 2551 451).