An end and a beginning: the European Agenda for Adult Learning and international cooperation


28 02 2022


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As 2021 came to a close, so did Learning and Work Institute’s role as UK coordinator for the EU agenda for adult learning.

It’s a role that began in 2012. There’s been a lot of change since then – three Prime Ministers, three General Elections, two referendums and a pandemic. And, of course, the UK has left the European Union. That was the driver for the UK Government’s decision to end participation in the EU agenda for adult learning (though several non-EU member states do take part).

The value of cooperation 

Over the last nine years, hundreds (if not thousands) of people from across the UK and around the EU have taken part in events and activities.

Most recently, our focus has been on: participation, understanding how is taking part in learning and why; access, building flexible pathways so everyone has a fair chance to access learning; and quality, including demonstrating the impact of learning.

Work has included our Healthy, Wealthy and Wise report, showing the impact of learning on health and wellbeing and how we could make best use of social prescribing. This is only going to grow in importance, not least as populations age across many countries. We’ve highlighted the examples of the Citizens’ Curriculum and family learning as pathways into learning. We have also had a focus on workforce development, ensuring we support those delivering adult learning. And our long running adult participation in learning survey has shone a spotlight on inequalities in access to learning and what might motivate adults to get into learning. In that context, our latest findings of a spike in digital and self-directed learning during the pandemic provides a ray of light for us to build on.

All of these remain live issues today, central to how we ensure a fair and prosperous society and recover from the impacts of the pandemic.

Perhaps the greatest value we’ve seen is from the partnerships formed. Impact Forums in each of the UK nations provided a place for people to discuss issues in adult learning and a focal point to share solutions. I hope that the partnerships forged and the culture of sharing developed will continue even though the programme that funded them now ceases.

I’m grateful to the L&W team and partners across the UK and EU who have collectively ensured that all of this work happens and makes a difference.

What next?  

I believe it’s vital we continue to cooperate across borders – contexts differ, but challenges and experiences are often held in common.

The UK Government has chosen not to put any alternative mechanism in place for sharing experiences in adult learning to date. However, I welcome the Welsh Government’s £65m, three year investment in a new International Learning Exchange Programme. It’s for us all to make the case for partnership and exchanges of ideas to governments, but also to do what we can together regardless.

We will do that as co-founders of the Network for Adult Learning Across Borders (a network of partners across England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales), as well as members of the European Association for the Education of Adults and International Association for the Education of Adults. The surge in use of technology during the pandemic has given us new ways to connect, but meeting in person and seeing different ways of working is still vital, once safe to do so. We need multiple partnerships and multiple ways to share.

At the Learning and Work Institute we will always be looking to work with and learn from others around the world. We’re open for ideas and look forward to building the next phase of international cooperation in adult learning.