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Adult education trends in 2019

Based on the country reports, what are the current trends and policies of European adult education? In the 2019 country report survey, EAEA asked members to reply to questions about several European policies.

European Agenda

While only two of our participating members (Greece and Georgia) explicitly mentioned using the European Agenda for Adult Learning as a guideline for changes in the sector there is evidence of its influence in a number of countries. For example, a vast majority of our members noted the importance of flexibility in adult education provision, and many noted examples of policy makers or governing bodies beginning to recognise this as well. Innovative approaches to provision and engagement were also noted by a number of respondents. 

Sustainable Development Goals, United Nations

Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is occurring, albeit in varying degrees, across Europe. Our survey encouraged members to discuss their country’s relationship with the goals. Despite some members relaying that their policy makers were designing strategies that responded to the goals, but that it was not directly mentioned, most responses noted that the SDGs were reflected in their country. Some countries even went beyond goal 4 (providing inclusive and quality education for all). Our Croatian member, for example, is working to promote the SDGs on a wider scale. In Slovenia our members are working to implement goal 10 (reducing inequalities) through adult education for vulnerable groups. In Switzerland there is a Strategy in place directly relating to all 17 of the goals. 

Upskilling Pathways

The Upskilling Pathways initiative had a mixed uptake: some of our members reported that it formed the basis of most of their country’s policy at present, while others noted that it was not being explicitly implemented at all. A number of members did mention the presence of the ‘values’ of the initiative being present in their local adult education sphere, through the work of civil society organisations or our members themselves.

Involvement of civil society

Our Norwegian and Irish members noted that civil society organisations (CSOs) in their respective countries were being provided with the opportunity to involve themselves in the designing of policy and strategies relating to adult education. This is excellent for CSOs in these contexts, however, other members called for greater civil society engagement, recognising the extent to which these organisations can play a role in advocating for adult learners. In the Netherlands, Erasmus + funding has allowed civil society’s capacity to increase. Our member also notes how collaboration between civil society organisations from different contexts can help further develop effective systems of support for vulnerable learners.


Especially when working with vulnerable adults, validation of learning was clearly a priority for many of our members. Vocational Education and Training (VET) was mentioned explicitly by a number of members who feel that without appropriate certification for VET learners moving back into employment (or seeking better employment opportunities) is less likely. However, recognition for trainers in the sector (professionalization) was also recognised as a key issue in adult education at present.

Engaging new learners

It is recognised within the adult education sector that those who need it most, often have very limited access to learning. The European Commission has coined the term ‘low-skilled trap’: where those with low-skills or low levels of qualification are often in jobs where they are not provided with training. They are also less likely to seek out or participate in learning opportunities outside the workplace due to negative experiences and stigma. Our members are developing a number of innovative approaches to dealing with the difficulties involved in encouraging worse-represented groups to participate in adult education. However, many of them still saw it as a major challenge facing the field.