Adult education is an area that encompasses many different political approaches, and therefore also different approaches to funding. Financing adult education is one of EAEA's key topics in 2015.
The topic was kick-started by a workshop in Brussels in the end of February. Participants discussed what are the issues linked to financing adult education throughout Europe and what solutions are needed.
Adult education providers and organisations underlined the need to have strong arguments, including concrete data, to convince policy-makers. In particular, more data is needed on what are the consequences of adult education but also what are the consequences of less funding in adult education.
Need for a viable and transparent funding system
In 2011, the European Commission established a thematic working group that, based on observations and data collected in the EU member states, formulated key messages and recommendations for policy makers.
"We now have various European documents that clearly state that learning is very important for the social and economic development of the EU. The Education and Training 2020 target (ET2020) of a 15% participation in adult learning has in some countries already been exceeded. However, in other countries these numbers are significantly low. The national government should provide a viable and transparent system of funding as well as efficiency of the usage of public money," said Nicholas Fox from The Individual Learning Company.
The economic crisis hit existing funding streams
With the economic crisis of the past years, funding for adult education has been reduced, which has resulted in the discontinuity of some funding streams. The crisis has led to a stronger support for vocational education and training and less support for general adult education.
"Citizenship education, numeracy, literacy etc. are as important as qualifications of the secondary or tertiary level of the formal education system. In non-formal adult education, we see many different categories of people with very different profiles," emphasised Myriam Schauwers from the Belgian French-speaking Ministry of Education. "But we always get back to the same discussion – citizenship and general skills versus training for employment."
Even countries as Finland that are traditionally well-provided with financial resources are now feeling the cuts that have been made by the government.
"Of the 80 to 90 folk high schools in Finland, probably 75 % have to close their doors soon, mainly the small schools on the countryside," reported Tapio Kujala, EAEA’s Finnish Board Member from The Finnish Lifelong Learning Foundation.
"We have to take into account that learners in non-formal adult education are the most resource intensive target group. If you are cutting funding of non-formal adult education, that will have huge impacts on the quality of courses. From an economic point of view, you cannot compare formal and non-formal learning," said Niamh O’Reilly, EAEA’s Irish Board Member from AONTAS.
More research is needed
"Politicians ask themselves whether the non-formal sector is really valuable. Although PIAAC and the BeLL study showed the importance of non-formal adult education, more research is needed to prove it at the political level," Mr. Kujala from Finland said.
"The main questions that we need to ask ourselves are, why invest in adult learning, how can investments be made smarter, who should pay for what, how should funding be prioritised, and which funding instruments should be used for specific investments," Mr. Fox said.
A lack of advocating structures in adult education reinforces the difficulties of the sector to get sufficient financing. A definition of non-formal adult education and its benefits in comparison to formal adult education and vocational education and training as well as clear parameters on the outcome can be a very useful tool to advocate for funding.
Convincing policy-makers with strong arguments
"To be able to produce an argument, we also need to speak the language of policy-makers," concluded EAEA President Per Paludan Hansen who comes from Denmark.
"Why not define a benchmark for national expenditure on adult education," suggested one of the participants of the workshop in order to secure funding at the national level.
"We need to be able to show potential consequences of cuts," said Nicholas Fox. "There is a need for a rational response to austerity measures in the adult education sector. For investments in employment related trainings, it is much easier to show short-term benefits and therefore maintain funding."
EAEA's Policy Workshop "Financing Adult Education" took place in the EAEA Secretariat in Brussels on 27th of February 2015. It gathered 31 participants, including EAEA Executive Board.
Text: Tania Berman and Raffaela Kihrer
Photo: Tania Berman