City Lit Blog

Adult Participation in Learning fallen to a historic low according to new research by the Learning & Work Institute

Story added 6th Jan 2020


In a time of continued economic and political uncertainty, there has never been a more important role for adult education, both in the capital and nationwide. However, last week’s research by the Learning & Work Institute shows that adult participation in learning has fallen to a historic low. Just one third (33 per cent) of adults say that they have participated in learning during the previous three years, while 38 per cent say that they have not done any learning since leaving full time education. It is the lowest participation rate in the 23-year history of this annual survey and the third year in a row in which the participation rate has fallen to a record low.

Stephen Evans, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute said:“With our economy set to undergo transformational change in the coming years, lifelong learning has never been more important. So it should be a real cause for concern that participation has fallen to a record low, and that we have seen nearly 4 million lost learners since 2010. If we are to succeed post-Brexit, and if we are to boost productivity and ensure everyone can achieve their potential, we must reverse this decade of decline in adult learning. The new government should set a national mission to boost lifelong learning, backed up by sustained additional investment, and a cross-government strategy.”

Despite this decline, our resolve in providing adults the opportunity to pursue their ambitions must not waver. As well as ongoing transitions in the job market, City Lit believe there has never been a more important place in society for the lifelong learning retraining and upskilling initiatives we offer. Tens of thousands of Londoners of varying ages, backgrounds and ability levels study with us each year, all motivated by different ambitions, however grand or small. They all share the same common goal: a desire for self-improvement and self-actualisation. 

We are living and working longer, so the place of learning throughout life is more important than ever. It doesn’t matter which of life’s transitions you are going through; fulltime education to the world of work; changing careers; personal circumstances; or moving from work to an active retirement; education is a crucial enabler to ensuring success in those transitions. 

The participation data released by the Learning & Work Institute suggests that there are significant barriers to participation across the country – which is why we work hard to ensure these barriers are reduced wherever possible, and ensure we offer high-quality courses, excellent tutors, with an affordable and flexible approach – with both short and longer-term courses; in mornings, daytime, evenings and weekends. 

If further research is commissioned to understand these barriers, and what can be done to counter them, we would welcome the opportunity to share our story and approach to lifelong learning. 

> Download Adult Participation in Learning Survey 2019


Key Findings of the Survey:

  • The lowest participation rate in the 23-year history of the survey. It is the third year in a row in which the participation rate has fallen to a record low.
  • Those in lower social grades, those with fewer years of initial education, and those furthest from the labour market remain under-represented in learning.
  • Participation declines with age, with older adults being significantly less likely to participate in learning
  • There are stark gaps in participation between the nations and regions of the UK. The gap between the best and worst performing English regions has widened, with thirty-nine per cent of adults in the south east of England participating in education compared to twenty-four per cent in the northeast.
  • The benefits of learning for individuals are wide ranging and include improvements in subject knowledge (36 per cent) and the skills needed for their current job (29 per cent). Twenty-three per cent report improvements in self-confidence, with 21 per cent saying that they are enjoying learning more and that they feel more confident at work as a result.

Robert Halfon MP said: “Adult learning is one of the most important challenges facing our nation. I strongly welcome the Government’s £3bn National Skills Fund announced in the election Manifesto. We need to do more, looking again at personal learning accounts or social credits to those undertaking adult learning, as well as tax credits for businesses who retrain their workers. We must also ensure that we have Adult Community Learning Centre in every town in the country. This new survey by the Learning and Work Institute clearly shows that there are many challenges ahead.”

Matthew Fell, chief policy director at CBI UK said: “Adult learning is heading in the wrong direction at precisely the wrong time for our economy and our society. Technology is rapidly changing the world of work and driving up demand for new and higher skills. Nine in ten workers will need some form of reskilling by 2030, so we need the partnership of the century between individuals, business and government to ensure that everyone can benefit from the opportunities created by new technologies. Lifelong learning will be one of the defining issues of our age – countries who get it right will have an exceptional competitive advantage”.