Recent increases in funding for education and training, such as the EU directing over EUR70 billion in the sector and Member States increasing their funding of learning as part of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP), might, out of context, appear as a watershed moment for education and training. However, strengthening the role of public funding for education means, conversely, that education stays a public good for all. Therefore, “who” or rather “what instruments” finance lifelong learning are not questions to be taken for granted, as they entail cascade effects on the structures, pedagogies, objectives, curricula, inclusion and representation in education and training.
In this forthcoming position paper, the Lifelong Learning Platform (LLLP) will challenge the underlying assumptions that guide funding and investment in learning. Starting from the issue of terminology, the paper will insist on the importance of funding, which represent the resources that governments are responsible for providing to various sectors for different purposes. Securing education as a human right implies a responsibility of states to fund a system in which all learners are welcomed, supported and aided to develop holistically and fully. The reverse of this is the frequent conversation on investment, which allows for spreading the responsibility of putting resources in education and training to various stakeholders, including for-profit ones, while tying learning to a goal-oriented approach. This is where the most sweeping underlying narrative in education and training finds its place. Societies have been accepting a master narrative of markets led by economic interests which prevents the chance to ensure full provision of education as a public good. The reduction of sustenance of life simply to economic gains, as well as the reliance on prioritising economic competition at the expense of everything else has led to distortions such as economic ventures remaining open during the pandemic, while education and training institutions closed. The currently ingrained culture that learners benefit from learning only inasmuch as it contributes to their chances to employment and economic gains must be challenged.
The forthcoming LLLP Position Paper has a threefold aim. Firstly, it accounts for the decades-long reduction in public funding for lifelong learning which has crippled the sectors and the learning opportunities, revealing how the current post-pandemic boost in investment cannot yet make up for what was lost. Secondly, it aims to debunk the privatisation and commodification narratives which softly and in a hidden manner transform the reason for learning to contribute to the economy and labour markets. The narratives have been ingrained in the way funding is allocated from national and European authorities, in the way the global challenges are described but also in the way education and training has been adapted towards being more business-like and more oriented towards cost-efficiency. Thirdly, it proposes a return to what education and training is about, towards finding once more the joy of learning but it also proposes specific funding measures which would ensure lifelong learning is an inclusive process, accessible by all, learner-centred and focused on a holistic development that would develop active participants to the society rather than simple human resources.
Transforming the world into a learning society requires adequate resources to make the process of learning a reality, as its promotion is not only linked to access, but also to ensuring quality education and training so that learners can adapt to the defining challenges of the current times which include, but are not limited to, the environmental crisis, digitalisation, the promotion of democratic values. To this end, community and cooperative governance models instead of top-down, business-like structures can challenge the existing narratives. All the learning community must participate in co-designing and co-implementing the learning process, starting from policy making until institutional level decisions. Democratic decision making in learning provision is crucial to empower all stakeholders to take ownership over the process and promote a lifelong and lifewide learning approach but also to account for the diversity of needs and tailored solutions that can close equity gaps in learning.
Quantity, quality and sources of investment in education and training systems shape the type of learning available. The following set of recommendations and the position paper aim to boost investment that can deliver learning as a public good.