Adult Education: It’s not a Cost, it’s an Investment!
Non-formal adult education promotes social cohesion, and it equips adults with the skills, knowledge and competences needed in our society. Yet only a crumb of public funding is allocated to the education of adults. The FinALE (Financing Adult Learning in Europe) project looked at the financing of adult education in Europe, analysed the “why” and “how” to invest in adult education and developed an advocacy toolkit for a better financing of the sector.
Evidence suggests that around 0.1 percent to 0.2 percent of GDP are public expenditure on adult education. The total expenditure on adult education, including other financial sources such as funding through employers, learners’ fees etc., varies between 1.1 percent and less than 0.6 percent of GDP. At the same time, 70 million adult Europeans have difficulties with basic reading, writing and calculating. Only 10.8 percent of adults are participating in adult learning, while the European Union set its goal at achieving 15 percent by 2020.
“The return on investment can be used as an indicator to measure the effectiveness of adult education systems,” confirms Nicholas Fox, a member of the expert group on Financing Adult Learning.
Alongside the return on investment, a set of indicators for the financing of adult education were developed in the project. Applying indicators could create arguments for a better funding of the sector.
However, the project partners clearly state that the benefits of adult education must be perceived in a more comprehensive way, and that one-dimensional indicators or results might provide a distorted picture. The benefits of adult education are often only visible on a midterm or long-term perspective, or only indirectly or together with other factors.
The FinALE project experts therefore recommend to collect more data on the impact of adult education and to include the use of social rate of return techniques. Any evaluation of adult education returns should cover a full range of personal, community and economic benefits. Adult learning should be perceived as an investment, and not as a cost.