Global approaches to lifelong learning

Lifelong learning is a policy priority around the world - for Patrick Thomson there is a lot the UK can learn from practice further afield

Patrick Thomson  is Head of Research, Analysis and Policy at Phoenix Insights

If how much you value something can be judged on the time and money you spend on it people must really love learning.

Individuals in the UK invest £7.3bn a year into their own learning and £55bn worth of their own time. That is more than the government and employers combined.

But this investment isn’t spread evenly, with younger people three times more likely to be learning as older people. With people living longer than previous generations, and many working over longer multi-staged careers, the need to upskill when needed through lifelong learning is imperative.

UK government investment in skills is set to be £1 billion less in 2025 than in 2010, while employer investment in training has fallen by 28 per cent since 2005. In a third of businesses, the majority of training is solely focused on induction and health and safety. But is more money the whole answer? What else can we learn from around the world about how to do things differently? Phoenix Insights have partnered with the International Longevity Centre on new research to answer these questions.

Other countries face similar challenges to the UK to balance the needs, expectations and skills of multiple generations in the workforce. The emergence of new technologies means that jobs and the people who do them will need to adapt. Funding for learning and skills matter, but there are other factors that lead to higher engagement and effectiveness in learning. We found a real mix of approaches, funding mechanisms, and delivery methods across leading OECD countries.

Japan: putting the lifelong into lifelong learning

To understand what things might look like in the future for our ageing population, you need to look at what Japan is experiencing today. The understanding of longer lives is already embedded into Japan’s society, government and business. In 2017 they established a Prime Minister led Council for Designing 100-Year Life Society, including strands on human resources, productivity and skills.

Since 1947, children of all ages have studied the subject jiyu kenkyu (independent research) and time for tokubetsu katsudo (special activities) has been built into curricula since 1968. In 1996, Japan’s Priorities and Prospects for a Lifelong Learning Society policy paper emphasised the need for ikiru chikara (a zest for living) when it comes to learning for children. The OECD ranks Japan top of the pile in terms of financial ranking of adult learning, with a strong state oversight, but lower investment with individuals and companies funding most learning.

Germany: matching verified vocational training to real world jobs and skill needs

The German strategy for lifelong learning focuses on quality assurance of courses, including validation and accreditation of non-university learning, better access through community learning centres, and promoting self-learning. The ProfilPASS facilitates and encourages lifelong learning, guiding individuals through a self-assessment of their skills and qualifications, identifying any skills gaps leading to learning options. A wide range of learning is included: short courses, degrees, workshops and internal training, as well as volunteering as a form of skill-building. There are specific ProfilPASSes for older workers, women, and refugees or migrants. To ensure courses are verified, the German government sponsors an online database called Kursfinder, covering nearly 900 centres and organisations around the country, which offer free or low-cost adult learning options, careers advice and placement.

Canada: a $10,000 loan from your future self to fund education and upskilling

Over 60 per cent of Canada’s adult population have been through higher education, more than anywhere else in the world. But Canada also has other innovations that allow people to upskill across their lives. Through the Lifelong Learning Plan, Canadians can withdraw up to $10,000 (£5,800) a year from their Registered Retirement Saving Plan (or share it with a spouse) to finance their education without losing the benefits of tax-deferral while also building their retirement nest egg. For the UK, this model could be effective at redirecting capital from one stage of your life to another. But this presents risks, if we make pension pots easy to access, even for the best intentions, you might find there’s not much left in the pot when you need it for what it’s meant for, with the working age population already facing stark saving gaps for their retirement.

Singapore: credits for learning for anyone over 25

As a technocratic democracy Singapore has a centralised and well-funded skills regime. SkillsFuture is the government’s one-stop shop facilitating lifelong learning with courses, career advice, and learning stipends. An associated credit programme has been running since 2015, providing S$500 (£300) to every Singapore resident (regardless of employment or education status) over the age of 25, to be spent on approved skills and training programmes. There are multiple incentives aimed at middle-aged workers, including dedicated Career Conversion Programmes, where people undergo skills assessments and are then retrained for a career in a new in-demand industry based on their current interests and skill levels.

Lifelong learning is a global issue, and some countries get it more right than others. But while Singapore offers learning credits to all adults no matter their age, our own Lifelong Learning Entitlement offers the right to take on a loan, and only up to the age of 60. We know that more of us will be working well past the age of 60, and may well hope to access learning to thrive in the changing world of work. What message are we sending out when we block access to funding for learning because someone has reached a certain age? The implicit bias is that this is someone not worth investing in, who is likely to default on their return on investment due to their age. If you replaced “aged over 60” with another protected characteristic like gender, race or disability people would rightly be up in arms. We know from the Festival of Learning that people return to learning at all ages and stages of life. And we also know from England’s first ever anti-ageism campaign, that the question Are you ageist? is sadly often more relevant than it should be.

Join us at the launch of our upcoming report Redefining lifelong learning: Lessons from across the globe, on Wednesday 28 February with Phoenix Insights and ILC-UK.

One response to “Global approaches to lifelong learning

  1. Interesting to see lifelong guidance mentioned (referred to as careers advice) for some countries profiled and in the UK we can’t underestimate how addressing gaps in adult guidance would impact uptake and impact of lifelong learning

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