UK lies bottom of developed world pile for adult learning

24th September 2010 at 01:00
46 hours' study per student is barely half the average of 80, reveals OECD report

Adult learners in the UK spend less time on learning than their counterparts in every other country in the developed world.

A typical adult student here will spend just 46 hours a year in what the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's annual report calls "non-formal education". This covers everything outside the continuous "ladder" of education for children and young people.

The figures are published in the international body's annual report, Education at a glance, and relate to 2007. They show that the average learner in a developed country spends 80 hours a year studying. There are no separate figures for Scotland.

High unemployment can boost the average time, as individuals need more intensive skills development and have more time. But the best performer, Korea, where the average time spent studying is 132 hours a year, has low unemployment at about 4 per cent.

While the intensity of participation is markedly low in the UK, the numbers involved in some form of study paint Britain in a far better light: with 49 per cent of 25 to 64-year-olds in learning, it has the fifth-highest participation rate, beaten only by Sweden, New Zealand, Switzerland and Finland.

Britain also displays less inequality than most, as adults with degrees are only twice as likely as those with poor secondary education attainment to be learning in later life, compared with three times elsewhere. The worst offender is Poland, where those with degrees are ten times more likely to continue studying.

Former Edinburgh University academic Tom Schuller, who was in charge of education research at the OECD and headed the UK Inquiry into the Future of Lifelong Learning, said compulsory short training courses in health and safety may boost the adult learning participation rate in the UK without necessarily offering much educational benefit.

He said: "The effort now should be not so much on volume, but the unequal distribution of access to education and the ways in which training enables people to make progress in the quality of their work."

The OECD report said: "To increase participation in adult learning, effective information, guidance and counselling services can help create accessible learning environments, support learning at all ages and in a range of settings, and empower citizens to manage their learning and work. A special goal is to reach out to information- and assistance-deprived groups."

The UK was ranked as one of the better-performing countries for advice and guidance, however, with just 28 per cent of adults having no contact with the adult education system.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today