Participation in Adult Learning Falls to Record Low | Instructus Skills

Participation in Adult Learning Falls to Record Low

According to research by the Learning and Work Institute, the number of adults in learning has dropped by 3.8 million since 2010.

The Adult Participation in Learning Survey 2019 was carried out by the Learning and Work Institute and funded by the Department for Education. The results drew on a national representative survey of 5,000 adults across the UK.

The survey found that since 2010 the number of adults in education fell by 10 percentage points, equivalent to 3.8 million adults over the decade. Further, the survey found that only one in three adults (33%) has taken part in learning within the last three years – the lowest figure since annual assessments began in 1996.

The findings also highlighted deep inequalities in access to learning. For example, nearly 40% of adults in south-east England had access to education, compared to 24% of adults in the north-east.

Adults from lower-income households are half as likely to take part in learning as those from higher socio-economic groups. Likewise, adults who left school at 16 are half as likely to take part in learning as those that stayed in education until 21.

The decline coincides with a 47% cut on government investment in adult education. The Institute also found that the UK has lower employer investment than other advanced economies.

“Lifelong learning has never been more important”

Stephen Evans, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute warned of the importance of turning this decline around. “With our economy set to undergo transformational change in the coming years, lifelong learning has never been more important. So it should be a real cause for concern that participation has fallen to a record low, and that we have seen nearly 4 million lost learners since 2010.

“If we are to succeed post-Brexit, and if we are to boost productivity and ensure everyone can achieve their potential, we must reverse this decade of decline in adult learning.”

Matthew Fell, chief policy director at CBI UK said “adult learning is heading in the wrong direction at precisely the wrong time for our economy and our society. Technology is rapidly changing the world of work and driving up demand for new and higher skills.

“Lifelong learning will be one of the defining issues of our age – countries who get it right will have an exceptional competitive advantage.”


The Learning and Work Institute is a policy, research and development organisation dedicated to lifelong learning, full employment and inclusion.

As a Skills Sector Body Instructus ensures that people of all ages have the opportunity to develop new skills. Yet our work covers more than just apprenticeships and framework development.

As a not for profit organisation, all proceeds from our commercial operations are fed back into our charitable activities. Through these programmes, guidance and support, we help people from all backgrounds gain the skills and experiences they need to fulfil their potential and transform their lives.

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