Headlines: May 24th, 2005

There has been a sharp fall in the number of adults currently in learning, though new figures show there has been an overall increase in the number participating in education over a three-year period.The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education says the annual Adults Learners’ Week survey offers mixed messages. Initially, it says, the report “Better News This Time?” shows encouraging signs. The fall in the number of adults participating in learning reported in the last two years has been reversed with the overall participation rate up to 42 per cent from 38 in 2004. But the figure for current learners – just 19 per cent – shows a sharp fall and is 4 per cent below the 1996 level.

The survey shows that social class continues to have a significant impact on adult participation in learning. It shows that professional and managerial groups, where the rate is 56 per cent, are twice as likely to take part as unskilled and unwaged groups, where the figure is only 26 per cent. The new survey, though, shows more skilled workers taking up courses with the figure for that group now 40 per cent, up from 32 per cent last year.

NIACE is concerned that there is an age divide between those in learning with a marked drop for people over 55. It says that given demographic change resulting in a reduction in the number of young people, it means they can fill only one in three new and replacement job vacancies over the next decade. Other jobs will have to be taken up by people currently outside the labour force and older people taking on new roles. On the evidence of this survey, NIACE says, these are the groups least likely to participate in learning.

Alan Tuckett, Director of NIACE and co-author of the report, said, its results presented some comfort to the Government but also a challenge in securing a step-change in participation. “The reverse in the decline in participation is welcome, but we will need to take active measures to sustain it. The current economic pressures on publicly-funded adult learning opportunities make it likely that this trend will be difficult to reverse in the next three years. Yet the economic and social case for adult learning has never been more persuasive,” he said.