Education & Family

Fall in UK adults engaged in learning, survey finds

man on computer
Image caption The fall in the number of male adult learners represents a particular challenge, says the charity

The number of adult learners in the UK has fallen - with a particular decline among men, an annual survey suggests.

This year's National Institute of Adult Continuing Education survey - of 4,957 people - found a slight fall in adults in learning, down from 21% to 20%.

But there was concern that the number of men who had been in learning in the past three years had fallen to 37% - the lowest level since the mid-1990s.

This was a "fundamental challenge for policy makers", the charity said.

The annual survey from National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) - a charity which promotes adult learning - asked respondents to assess whether or not they identified themselves as a learner.

It was based on a survey of 4,957 people in the UK aged 17 and over carried out in February and March.

The type of "learning" could be formal, work-based, online or self-directed and covers a range of areas from academic subjects to recreational activities.

'Learning society'

The results indicated that the number of men who have been in learning over the past three years (37%) is at its lowest level since the NIACE survey began in 1996.

Participation in learning among those in the least skilled jobs and those outside the labour market fell seven percentage points from 2010 from 30% to 23%.

Professional and managerial groups were twice as likely (52%) to participate in learning than the unskilled and unemployed.

But younger learners were on the increase - with participation in learning increasing among those aged 17 to 24, up from 58% in 2010 to 71% this year.

This is set against a decrease across all other age groups, with learning activities for adults aged 65 to 74 dropping from 23% last year to 17% in 2011.

NIACE chief executive Alan Tuckett said: "If Britain is to recover economically it has to invest in the whole of its workforce, not just the young.

"With an ageing labour force we need to encourage people to prolong their active working and learning lives, reducing learning opportunities will hardly help with the well-being or work-readiness of Britain's third age adults.

"But overall, the most concerning aspects of this year's survey are the lowest ever figures of participation for men and for the least skilled and those outside the labour market.

"When you take these findings, with the reported decline in people's intentions to take up learning in the future, you have a fundamental challenge for policy makers, employers and providers.

"We won't have a learning society unless everyone takes their share of responsibility to create it."

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