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How can the structures of continuing education provision in various countries be researched, and for what purpose?
Initial and continuing education and training are key to ensuring that Europe is economically creative and competitive. Therefore, for some years now, the participation of adults in continuing education has been central to European educational policy (e.g. ET 2020). This is demonstrated by, among other things, the setting of benchmarks for the participation of adults in lifelong learning and the implementation of European-wide education-monitoring tools (EU 2010; 2014).
Various European countries emphasise different aspects in their continuing education systems. In England, for example, there is a clear focus on continuing education oriented towards the labour market. In addition, continuing education is largely decentralised in England and at the same time subject to little regulation. There is a great variety of continuing education providers.
In Spain, however, the situation is quite different: In the central legislative texts and regulations a broad understanding of continuing education is postulated, and equal importance is accorded to both continuing education oriented towards the labour market and continuing education that focuses on political and personal development. In Spain, as in England, decentralisation is the norm, although there are some major regional differences.
These are the initial findings of a research team at the German Institute for Adult Education (DIE).
Connection between continuing education provision and system-specific characteristics
The research group is investigating the degree to which legal and financial regulation and the continuing education provision in selected European countries are linked. Specifically, the structures of continuing education providers in three European countries are being examined in order to generate detailed background knowledge regarding a sub-sector of national continuing education systems. But why is this knowledge required?
The long-term aim and particular challenge of the research lies in extracting conclusions from country-specific characteristics to describe general mechanisms and connections.
The choice of Sweden, England, and Spain allows for the comparison of three highly contrasting countries that differ in key categories such as the economic and education system as well as government regulation. The researchers assume that these overarching, country-specific characteristics also influence the structures of the continuing education system and, consequently, the structures of the educational provision and the providers themselves. Furthermore, it is assumed, with reference to relevant theoretical models, that features of the continuing education provision also influence the participation of individuals and thus represent a relevant explanatory factor for participation structures in different countries (Boeren 2016; Schrader 2011).
Continuing education provision: framework conditions and stakeholders
In order to investigate the structures of continuing education provision and providers, it is necessary to consider the legal and financial regulation on a national level, as these determine the basic framework conditions that make continuing education provision possible. A particular challenge arises from the various functions of education and learning for adults. It is intended to improve employability among the workforce as well as to promote personal development and active participation in society, and it encompasses such aspects as acquiring school leaving certificates later in life, completing extra-occupational study programmes at higher education institutes, company-financed and continuing professional education, as well as general, cultural, and political continuing education (cf. Desjardins 2017). In many countries, this results in the responsibilities for the legal and financial regulation of continuing education being shared by various decision-making bodies and authorities (cf. Desjardins 2017; Reichart & Kaufmann-Kuchta (submitted)). In addition, there is no universal adult education institute which, analogous to school or university, can be regarded as central.
As a result, there is a great variety of relevant stakeholders who, on the one hand, influence continuing education from a legal and financial perspective, and on the other hand act as providers of continuing education. In addition, cooperation between continuing education institutes and other stakeholders in the field of education, the economy, and administration is significant and needs to be considered.
Researching the structures of continuing education providers
When it comes to researching continuing education providers, it is necessary to identify the relevant decision-makers and stakeholders. For this purpose, general information on country-specific characteristics such as the education, employment, and economic system as well as general information on political administrative structures in three countries are first compiled in a country profile. Key legislative texts, regulations, and strategy papers concerning the regulation of continuing education in the individual countries are currently being analysed in order to identify the central stakeholders and their connections to each other.
For a more detailed analysis of the provider structures, the question arises as to the form in which the various stakeholders interact with one another. For this purpose, the plan is to conduct interviews with the key stakeholders in the area of policy-related decision-making and the (continuing) education system as well as with the management of continuing education institutes. It is also important to identify the connections between continuing education institutes and other stakeholders in the area of education, the economy, and other relevant social partners, as these may influence the continuing education provision, by, for example, acting as cooperation partners or competition.
On this basis, the findings could represent a starting point for further research in which the connections between characteristics on the macro-level (legal and financial regulation), the meso-level (the structures of providers), and the micro-level (the structures of participants) are specified. In the long-term, this would make it possible to identify indicators on the basis of which individual countries and their continuing education systems can be quantitatively compared with one another.
Firstly, however, fewer benchmarks and considerably more background information on continuing education systems are required. This is the only way to shape (continuing) education policy in such a way that social inequality regarding access to (continuing) education is reduced. Best practice models from the international sphere should, at the very least, be examined as a possible basis for reforms in the area of educational policy, even if a “one size fits all” solution can be ruled out due to country-specific factors.
Sources and further reading
Boeren, E. (2016). Lifelong Learning Participation in a Changing Policy Context. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.
Desjardins, R. (2017). Political economy of adult learning systems. Comparative study of strategies, policies and constraints. London, Bloomsbury.
European Union (EU) (2010). Commission Regulation (EU) No 823/2010 of 17 September 2010 implementing Regulation (EC) No 452/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the production and development of statistics on education and lifelong learning, as regards statistics on the participation of adults in lifelong learning. Official Journal of the European Union, L 246/33, 18.9.2010. URL: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/DE/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32010R0823&from=DE; http://data.europa.eu/eli/reg/2010/823/oj; last accessed 01.09.2019.
European Union (EU) (2014). Commission Regulation (EU) No 1175/2014 of 30 October 2014 implementing Regulation (EC) No 452/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the production and development of statistics on education and lifelong learning, as regards statistics on the participation of adults in lifelong learning and repealing Commission Regulation (EU) No 823/2010. Official Journal of the European Union, L 316/4, 4.11.2014. URL: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/DE/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32010R0823&from=DE; http://data.europa.eu/eli/reg/2010/823/oj; last accessed 01.09.2019.
Reichart, E. & Kaufmann-Kuchta, K. (submitted). About the realm and aptitude of typologies in international comparative research on adult education. Conceptual considerations and exemplification for investment patterns in vocational adult education and training.
Roosmaa, E.-L. & Saar, E. (2010). Participating in non‐formal learning: patterns of inequality in EU‐15 and the new EU‐8 member countries. Journal of Education and Work, 23(3), 179–206.
Schrader, J. (2011). Struktur und Wandel der Weiterbildung. Bielefeld: Bertelsmann.
About the author
Dr. Katrin Kaufmann-Kuchta is head of the Junior Research Group at the “System and Politics” Department of the German Institute for Adult Education (DIE) - Leibniz Centre for Lifelong Learning e.V. The group analyses interrelations between institutional framework conditions and the structures of continuing education provision on an international level with the aid of comparative case studies.