Non-formal adult education promotes social cohesion, and it equips adults with the skills, knowledge and competences needed in our society. Yet only a crumb of public funding is allocated to the education of adults. The FinALE (Financing Adult Learning in Europe) project looked at the financing of adult education in Europe, analysed the “why” and “how” to invest in adult education and developed an advocacy toolkit for a better financing of the sector.
Evidence suggests that around 0.1 percent to 0.2 percent of GDP are public expenditure on adult education. The total expenditure on adult education, including other financial sources such as funding through employers, learners’ fees etc., varies between 1.1 percent and less than 0.6 percent of GDP. At the same time, 70 million adult Europeans have difficulties with basic reading, writing and calculating. Only 10.8 percent of adults are participating in adult learning, while the European Union set its goal at achieving 15 percent by 2020.
Adult learning providers in Europe are faced with enormous challenges when it comes to creating learning offers with the limited funding available.
“According to research carried out with adult education providers across the EU, programme funding, learners’ fees and project funding are the most used funding tools. However, the nature of these means of financing is precarious. Programme and project funding require long application and reporting procedures, and learners’ fees are potentially excluding learner groups with lower purchase power. What providers need is sustainable funding,” says Suzanne Kyle, representing AONTAS, the Irish National Adult Learning Organisation in the project.
Adult learning has a wide range of benefits for individuals, the economy, and society. These benefits include, among others, a higher income and better employability of individuals, a higher general well-being and health, a greater social inclusion and engagement in volunteer activities, a greater capacity for innovation and a higher competitiveness, as well as developing democracy and ensuring tax payments from citizens.
Benefits of adult learning can lead to a return on investment for governments.
“These benefits of adult learning can lead to a return on investment for governments. It means that money can be saved in other areas, such as medical treatments, policing of problematic parts of cities, or paying unemployment benefits,” says Gerhard Bisovsky, Director of the Association of Austrian Adult Education Centres.
“The return on investment can be used as an indicator to measure the effectiveness of adult education systems,” confirms Nicholas Fox, a member of the expert group on Financing Adult Learning.
Alongside the return on investment, a set of indicators for the financing of adult education were developed in the project. Applying indicators could create arguments for a better funding of the sector.
However, the project partners clearly state that the benefits of adult education must be perceived in a more comprehensive way, and that one-dimensional indicators or results might provide a distorted picture. The benefits of adult education are often only visible on a midterm or long-term perspective, or only indirectly or together with other factors.
The FinALE project experts therefore recommend to collect more data on the impact of adult education and to include the use of social rate of return techniques. Any evaluation of adult education returns should cover a full range of personal, community and economic benefits. Adult learning should be perceived as an investment, and not as a cost.
Download the final products of FinALE here:
Text: Raffaela Kihrer