Participation in adult learning lowest since 1996

Fewer adults are involved in learning in the UK than at any time since 1996, according to research by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE).

It said that its latest annual poll of adult learners in the UK found 18% of adults said – at the time of the poll – that they were involved in learning, whether at college, work or online. This is the lowest percentage since the poll started in 1996 when the figure was 23%. Last year it was 20%.

But the percentage of adults who are currently learning or have done so in the past three years was 39%, 1% up on the 2008 figure.

The research also found that those in the highest socioeconomic groups, so-called ABC1s, are at least twice as likely (25% for ABs to 23% for C1s) to be currently learning than Ds or Es (skilled and unskilled workers), where the score is 11%.

And only 20% of ABs said they had done no learning since leaving school compared to 55% of DEs.

NIACE chief executive Alan Tuckett said: “These findings are sobering for a government that has invested 52% more in real terms in post-compulsory education and training since the 1997 election.

“After impressive gains in its first five years in office there has been a marked decline in participation since the adoption of its skills strategies in 2003,2005 and 2006.

“A decade ago Helena Kennedy – a barrister and member of the House of Lords – summed up educational opportunity after school in Britain by arguing: ‘If at first you don’t succeed, you don’t succeed.’ For far too many people in the UK that remains true,” he said.

But, after years of declining scores, the percentage of respondents who said they’d received job-related education or training in the four weeks before they were polled rose to 14.7% from 14.5% in 2008. It had fallen every year from 2005 when the figure reached 16.5%.

The survey also found that 39% of female respondents were currently or had recently participated in education or training compared to 38% of those males polled. Respondents employed full time – at 47% – and part-time – at 49% – were more likely to be learning or have recently participated in learning than those who were unemployed at the time of the poll (40%).

And respondents who stayed in education until 21 or later are – 55% of those who met that criterion and were polled – were more than twice as likely to continue learning as those polled who left school at the first opportunity (26%).

Adults in South East England, at 44% of those polled who fitted that profile, were most likely to have recently participated in learning than those from any other region – the lowest scores, at 33% each, were in Scotland the East Midlands.

When asked what measures would make them more likely to learn, 16% of respondnets said “if I could learn at home”, 14% said “if it was cheaper”, while 9% said “if my employer would pay some of the cost”.

The research was undertaken for NIACE by polling firm RSGB. It interviewed a weighted sample of 4,917 adults aged 17 or over in the UK in February and March this year.

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