Adult education decline is creating a ‘land of missed opportunity’ - study

A new study by AXA Insurance, Britain’s leading insurer of startup businesses, warns that British people face a future of ‘impoverished opportunity’ if the current decline in adult education continues.

3 August 2018

Posted in Product

  • Generations of British people feel priced out of adult education, leaving an estimated 18 million adults without the courses they need. This is despite three quarters of people under 30 think that requalifying will be a necessity in the future.  
  • Shaky lifelong learning culture: the average British adult last studied in any form 11-20 years ago; a quarter – more than three decades ago.  
  • Entrepreneurship is cited as a casualty, while Britain’s financial sector, mental health services, NHS and schools miss out on vital talent.  

A new study1 by AXA Insurance, Britain’s leading insurer of startup businesses, warns that British people face a future of ‘impoverished opportunity’ if the current decline in adult education continues. The UK’s appetite for lifelong learning is not cast into doubt by the study. Two thirds of UK adults say they plan to switch occupation, and most of them (46 per cent) will need to requalify to do so – as a rough guide, that would equate to 24 million people. While this may seem like good news for lifelong learning in the UK, seven in ten said the course they need would be too expensive, leaving 18 million potential learners in the lurch.

People in their 20s and 30s showed the biggest appetite for further education: 72 per cent say they will need to requalify or update their qualifications in the next decade. Another peak is seen among stay-at-home mums and dads, women on maternity leave and unemployed people – where six in ten want to study.

Overall, the UK’s record on lifelong learning appeared to be poor and out of sync with the nations’ desire for it. The last time the average British adult completed any form of learning or studies was 11-20 years ago. More than a quarter of the population say their last experience of studying anything was more than three decades ago.

Another casualty may well prove to be entrepreneurship: of 1000 people who are planning to start their own business, the majority (six in ten) said they would need to study towards a new qualification in the process. Only half of those said that the education they need is available and affordable. This may be the first sign that Britain’s start-up boom may be set to brake over the next few years, comments the study.

The cost of studying was overwhelmingly cited by the seven in ten people who won’t be able to take the courses they need. Almost half of would-be learners said they couldn’t get any or sufficient funding. Length of courses was cited by a quarter, saying the debt needed to cover years of study was too daunting.

Childcare was the biggest issue for those in the 25-45 age group, as half of people in this crucial section of the workforce said this was a reason they couldn’t go back to education. Lack of awareness may well play into this, according to the study’s authors, as students can get a grant for up to 85 per cent of childcare costs while studying (with similar schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

Other areas of concern highlighted are:

  • 16 per cent of UK adults consider themselves in a ‘poverty trap: working long hours for low incomes, and considering the courses they need unaffordable.
  • One in 20 people also said that they feel ‘too old’ to study. And despite the social, health and cognitive benefits learning can bring to older people, just four per cent of the over 65s are currently studying.
  • Five English cities received very low ratings for adult learning opportunities: Portsmouth, Norwich, Leicester, Bristol and Cambridge. Best rated were Swansea, Edinburgh and Liverpool.

“Why should we care about these people’s aspirations? One answer (if it’s needed) lies in the kinds of subjects they want to learn: Finance is top, which is excellent news as for the UK as the world’s leading exporter of financial services. There is a clear need there, as with the next most popular subjects: Psychology, Medicine and Teaching. With mental health services, the NHS and schools all facing a staffing crisis – the road should be smoothed for enthusiastic recruits to these professions.

“The opposite is happening though – it is shocking that so many feel priced out of lifelong learning. The high debt burdens and low levels of trust in the student loan system put people off, particularly those already on low incomes or raising young families. Making education cheaper will be a mammoth task for governments in the future, but more could be done now to promote the support that exists. On childcare, for instance, few parents were aware of the childcare grants available.”

Gareth Howell, Managing Director, AXA Insurance.

Further information

Best rated cities for lifelong learning Worst rated cities for lifelong learning
1 Swansea (rated ‘excellent’ and ‘good’ by 71% / rated ‘very poor’ by 5% of inhabitants) Portsmouth (rated ‘excellent’ by 0, rated ‘very poor’ by 30% of inhabitants)
2 Liverpool (rated ‘excellent’ and ‘good’ by 63% / rated ‘very poor’ by 4% of inhabitants)  Norwich (rated ‘excellent’ by 4%, rated ‘very poor’ by 28% of inhabitants) 
3 Edinburgh (rated ‘excellent’ and ‘good’ by 58% / rated ‘very poor’ by 8% of inhabitants) Cambridge (rated ‘excellent’ by 4%, rated ‘very poor’ by 20% of inhabitants)
4 London (rated ‘excellent’ and ‘good’ by 55% / rated ‘very poor’ by 9% of inhabitants) Leicester (rated ‘excellent’ by 10%, rated ‘very poor’ by 19% of inhabitants)
5 Leeds (rated ‘excellent’ and ‘good’ by 50% / rated ‘very poor’ by 8% of ihabitants) Bristol (rated ‘excellent’ by 8%, rated ‘very poor’ by 11% of inhabitants)