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Home > News > May 2007 > 21 May 2007

Survey finds fall in number of adult learners

A survey commissioned by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) reports that half a million adults were lost to learning in the last year.

The annual Adult Learners' Week survey on adult participation in learning, The Road to Nowhere?, found that the proportion of UK adults currently learning or having done so in the last three years has fallen to 41%.

According to the survey, a third of all adults (34%) say they have done no learning whatsoever since leaving full-time education. NIACE says the survey also shows – as in previous years - that no significant progress is being made to encourage those adults who left school earliest and those who are amongst the poorest in society to engage in learning. The survey reports that overall participation of poorer people is around half that experienced by the upper and middle classes (27% of DEs compared with 55% of ABs and 48% of C1s).

While the survey found a five point rise - to 15% - in over-75s learning and a three point increase - to 19% - for learners over 65, the overall participation rate for older adults is still at less than one in five. NIACE says this is an area of concern especially when the many benefits – particularly independence and health – of learning as an older person are taken into account.

The survey reports a reduction in participation by people in employment and, in particular, by part-time workers. There is a loss of 8 per cent of part-time workers learning in a single year (from 55% to 47%).

Alan Tuckett, director of NIACE and co-author of the survey, said, "The most worrying finding of this survey is the number of part-time workers engaged in learning, an eight per cent drop in one year. Yet the Government is really keen to rebalance learning to make sure people in the workforce learn. So something isn't going right with public policy. It suggests that either public money is squeezing out private money that was there before or the end of short courses has particularly affected part-time workers.

"More optimistic news is that the numbers of older people engaged in learning has held firm - and if anything gone up - at a time when we've seen over a million learners lost in LSC-funded provision. There are more people now who think they will take up learning in the next three years. The trick is to turn those good intentions into practice. And for that people need motivation and they need opportunity.

"The Government's sharply rebalanced public funding for adult learning is at the expense of many people participating. It's offering more to smaller numbers. Is that the right balance to have achieved? We're convinced of the necessity for more public investment in adult learning, what we need is more learning opportunities and not the loss of half a million learners in just one year. Adult Learners' Week can provide the motivation – it's up to Government to ensure there are enough opportunities."

Adult Learners' Week, 19th–25th May 2007, is supported by the Department for Education and Skills, the European Social Fund, learndirect, the National Learning and Skills Council, Ofcom - the Office of Communications, the Quality Improvement Agency, unionlearn and City and Guilds.

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