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Adult education in Europe – an overview

Many European countries provide adult learners with opportunities to gain formal qualifications through flexible learning paths, although they face very different challenges in raising the educational attainment of the domestic adult population group. This reality is highlighted and supported through interesting country examples in a recent publication of Eurydice – Adults in Formal Education: Policies and Practice in Europe. The report has been prepared based on information generated by the Eurydice Network and the publication is a direct contribution to European Commission’s Action Plan on adult learning of 2007, which carries the title It is Always a Good Time to Learn.

The report focuses mainly on formal learning, i.e. on programmes linked to the traditional national qualifications for initial education and training, and it investigates the options for obtaining these qualifications at a later point in life. The material is structured into five main chapters which provide

1.    a statistical analysis of educational attainment in Europe and of the participation of adults in education and training;
2.    an overview of theoretical approaches to the concept of formal adult education;
3.    a mapping of ‘second chance’ programmes for mature learners and an analysis of how these programmes are adapted to the group’s needs;
4.    a description of measures likely to support adults in returning to higher education to advance their qualifications; and
5.    an account of financial support approaches related to such efforts.

Last but not least, the report rightly underlines that lifelong learning should not be regarded as a one-way, vertical path, where learners are always seeking higher qualifications. On the contrary, the process can, in many instances, be horizontal – learners often need to get different qualifications at the same level or even a lower level on the formal qualifications ladder, for example in cases of career change. As a result, the supporting measures, programmes and policies should be tailor-made for adult learners heading in any one of these directions.