Adult learning statistics - characteristics of education and training
- Data extracted in October 2015. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: October 2018.
This article presents an overview of European Union (EU) statistics related to learning statistics. Based on the adult education survey, it focuses on three main aspects of adult education and training: the most common fields; the relative importance of formal and non-formal education and training; and a more in-depth analysis of non-formal education and training, particularly concerning job-related non-formal learning activities.
This article is one of a set of statistical articles forming part of an online publication on education and training, and provides a complement to information in an article on adult learning. The data presented in this article are all derived from the adult education survey (AES).
- 1 Main statistical findings
- 1.1 Formal and non-formal adult education and training
- 1.2 Adult education and training by field of study
- 1.3 Adult education and training: relative importance of formal and non-formal instruction
- 1.4 Focus on non-formal adult education and training
- 1.5 Relative importance of job-related non-formal adult education and training
- 1.6 Employer-sponsored job-related non-formal adult education and training
- 1.7 Job-related instruction by field of study
- 2 Data sources and availability
- 3 Context
- 4 Further Eurostat information
- 5 External links
- 6 Notes
Main statistical findings
Formal and non-formal adult education and training
Just over 40 % of adults aged 25–64 participated in some form of education or training
An estimated 40.3 % of working age (25–64) adults across the EU-28 took part in formal or non-formal education or training in 2011. This marked an increase of 5.5 percentage points compared with the previous survey, which was conducted in 2007, when just over one third (34.8 %) of the working-age population had participated in formal or non-formal education or training.
In 2011, the majority of the non-formal education and training that was undertaken in the EU-28 by people aged 25–64 was job-related rather than for personal fulfilment. Training courses, seminars, conferences and guided-on-the-job training are key elements for providing job-related training; while the latter type is usually very short the other types tend to be of a slightly longer duration (typically one or two days). Guided-on-the-job training is characterised by planned periods of training, instruction or practical experience, using normal tools of work, either at the immediate place of work or in the work-situation with the presence of a tutor.
In Sweden and Luxembourg, the share of the working-age population participating in education and training rose to over 70 %
Among the EU Member States , there was a considerable variation between the shares of adult working-age populations who participated in formal and non-formal education or training. In 2011, the highest proportions were recorded in Sweden (71.8 %) and Luxembourg (70.1 %), while 50–60 % of working-age adults in Germany, France, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands participated in some form of education and training. A small majority (14 out of 27) of the Member States recorded participation rates that were within +/-10 percentage points of the EU-28 average (of 40.3 %), while around one quarter of the adult working-age populations in Poland, Ireland, Bulgaria and Lithuania participated in education and training; Greece (11.7 %) and Romania (8.0 %) recorded much lower participation rates.
Adult education and training by field of study
An analysis by field of study reveals that in 2011 almost one quarter (22.8 %) of the total instruction (formal and non-formal) that was given to adults aged 25–64 in the EU-28 concerned social sciences, business or law. There were three fields of study which each accounted for 14–15 % of the total hours spent by adults in instruction: health and welfare; humanities and arts (predominantly foreign languages); and services. Engineering, manufacturing and construction, and science, mathematics and computing were the only other fields to record double-digit shares.
Services and health & welfare accounted for a growing share of adult education and training
Between 2007 and 2011, the fields of services and health & welfare saw their relative shares of the total hours spent by adults in instruction within the EU-28 increase by 4.3 and 3.0 percentage points respectively, while none of the other fields of education shown in Figure 1 reported an increase above 1.0 percentage points. In contrast, science, mathematics and computing, social sciences, business and law, and foreign languages recorded the most sizeable reductions in their relative shares.
Table 1 highlights that the most popular field of study for adult education and training in 2011 was social sciences, business and law, in 20 out of the 27 EU Member States for which data are available. Among the seven exceptions: general programmes accounted for the highest share of instruction that was given to adults in Denmark; humanities and arts in the Czech Republic and Greece; services in France and Italy; and health and welfare in Luxembourg and the United Kingdom.
Adult education and training: relative importance of formal and non-formal instruction
Non-formal instruction is the most frequent type of education and training
The majority of adult education and training in the EU-28 is non-formal education and training, in other words, outside of formal institutions of schools, colleges and universities. This is not surprising given that the age criterion for the AES is persons of working age (25–64 years-old), when most people have already completed their formal studies.
In 2011, more than one third (36.8 %) of the EU-28’s adult working-age population participated in non-formal education and training, a share that was almost six times as high as the share of those who participated in formal education or training (6.2 %).
Formal education and training was relatively common in the United Kingdom (14.8 % of working-age adults), Sweden (13.5 %), Denmark (12.6 %), the Netherlands (12.3 %), Finland (12.0 %) and Portugal (10.4 %); all of the remaining EU Member States reported single-digit shares. By contrast, fewer than 3 % of adults aged 25–64 participated in formal education and training in Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Romania.
A higher proportion of the instruction given in health and welfare was provided in a formal setting, while the opposite was true for services
Figure 2 provides an analysis of the relative importance of different fields of study, contrasting formal and non-formal education and training. In 2011, social sciences, business and law accounted for almost one quarter (24.5 %) of the total number of hours of formal instruction of adults given in the EU-28 compared with 21.6 % for non-formal instruction.
Health and welfare accounted for a considerably higher proportion of the formal instruction that was given to adults in the EU-28 in 2011 (when compared with its share of non-formal instruction), while the relative share of services in non-formal instruction was higher than its share in formal instruction. In a similar vein, engineering, manufacturing and construction accounted for a relatively high share of the total number of hours of formal instruction that were given to adults, while foreign languages and computer use accounted for relatively high shares of the total number of hours of non-formal instruction.
Focus on non-formal adult education and training
The remainder of this article concentrates on the most common type of adult education and training, non-formal instruction. It is important to note that the shares shown in this section are generally shown in relation to the total number of hours spent in non-formal instruction of adults; in other words, formal instruction of adults is not covered hereafter.
In 2011, approximately four fifths (80.2 %) of the total hours spent in non-formal adult education and training in the EU-28 were job-related and almost one fifth (19.2 %) were not job-related; the remaining 0.6 % concerned non-formal adult education and training where there was no response whether it was job-related or not.
The share of non-formal instruction that was job-related ranged among the EU Member States from highs of more than 90.0 % in Malta, Bulgaria and Slovakia, down to less than 70.0 % in Italy and Slovenia (see Table 2).
A higher proportion of the non-formal instruction given to adult men rather than to adult women was job-related
Within the EU-28 in 2011, a high proportion (84.8 %) of the total hours spent by men in non-formal instruction was job-related. This share could be compared with the corresponding value for women, where just over three quarters (75.5 %) of all non-formal instruction was job-related.
This gender gap was apparent in 26 of the 27 EU Member States for which data are available. The only exception was Estonia, where there was almost no difference in the shares between the sexes: 83.9 % of the non-formal instruction given to women in Estonia was job-related, while this share was 83.1 % for men.
In contrast, while 80.3 % of the non-formal instruction given to men in Greece was job-related, the corresponding share for women was 15.8 percentage points lower. This was the largest gender gap among the EU Member States, just ahead of Italy (15.2 points difference), while France, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Finland all reported double-digit differences (again with a higher share of non-formal instruction given to adult men being job-related).
The share of non-formal instruction that was job-related tended to become slightly higher as people moved towards the 45–54 years age group
In 2011, the share of non-formal instruction in the EU-28 that was job-related rose slightly as a function of age from 80.5 % for those aged 25–34 to a peak of 83.1 % among those aged 45–54, before falling to 69.4 % among those aged 55–64. While considerably more than half of the non-formal instruction given to people aged 55–64 continued to be job-related, the relatively low shares for this age group suggest that some older persons were preparing for retirement by expanding their knowledge or skills in non-job related areas.
The share of non-formal instruction that was job-related tended to be higher among adults with a tertiary level of educational attainment
An analysis by level of educational attainment (see Figure 3) suggests that adults in the EU-28 with a tertiary level of educational attainment were more likely to follow some form of job-related instruction. In 2011, some 81.8 % of the non-formal instruction received by people aged 25–64 with a tertiary level of educational attainment (ISCED 1997 levels 5 and 6) was job-related, compared with 74.9 % among those with a low level of educational attainment (ISCED levels 0–2).
Figure 4 shows the relative contribution of sponsorship from employers to job-related non-formal instruction. In 2011, some 70.8 % of the total number of hours spent by adults in non-formal education and training were job-related and sponsored by employers, while 9.4 % of the time spent in non-formal adult education and training was job-related and financially supported by other means.
With just over four fifths of all non-formal instruction of adults in the EU-28 being work-related, it is perhaps unsurprising to find that the vast majority of this was sponsored by employers providing financial support to their workforce in the form of training designed to improve the knowledge of their staff. The relatively high shares of education and training that are sponsored by employers may also be linked to the general affordability of training, which may be prohibitive for many people on an individual basis.
A higher proportion of the non-formal instruction undertaken by men was job-related and sponsored by employers
A more detailed examination of these figures shows that employers provided financial support more often to male (rather than female) employees in order to follow job-related non-formal instruction. Just over three quarters (76.6 %) of the total hours spent by adult men in the EU-28 in non-formal instruction were job-related and sponsored by employers, while among adult women the share was slightly less than two thirds (64.9 %) — see Figure 4. Note these shares also reflect the lower proportion of women (than men) who participate in job-related instruction, which may, at least in part, be linked to lower employment rates among women; the EU-28 employment rate for women aged 25–64 was 64.0 % in 2011, compared with a rate of 77.4 % for men of the same age.
The share of the total number of hours spent by adults in non-formal instruction that were both job-related and sponsored by employers peaked at 88.6 % in Bulgaria and 84.5 % in Slovakia, reflecting their high shares of overall job-related instruction. In contrast, less than half of the total hours spent in non-formal instruction were both job-related and sponsored by employers in Greece (48.2 %) and Ireland (40.7 %).
The largest gender gaps for the share of the total number of hours spent by adults in non-formal instruction that were both job-related and sponsored by employers were recorded in Italy and the Czech Republic, where the share for men was 19.0 and 17.1 percentage points higher than that for women. The gender gap was between 12.0 and 14.0 points (again in favour of men) in Austria, Luxembourg, Germany, Greece, France and Spain; even larger differences between the sexes were recorded in Turkey (36.3 percentage points) and Switzerland (22.0 points).
A higher proportion of the non-formal instruction undertaken by those aged 45–54 was job-related and sponsored by employers
Across the EU-28 in 2011, some 69.0 % of the total number of hours spent by adults aged 25–34 in non-formal instruction were job-related and sponsored by employers (see Figure 4). This share rose to 73.3 % among those aged 35–44 and almost reached three quarters (74.7 %) among those aged 45–54, before falling to 61.5 % for those aged 55–64. Note these figures reflect, to some degree, the relatively high proportion of non-formal instruction that was job-related among people aged 45–54. The initial increase with age may, at least in part, reflect the interest of employers and employees in keeping skills up-to-date, with this interest dropping off as employees get closer to the end of their working lives.
While the share of total hours spent by adults in job-related non-formal instruction that was financed by employers rose as a function of age up to the 45–54 age group for the EU-28 as a whole, there was a mixed picture among the EU Member States (see Table 3). In 2011, there were 11 of the 27 Member States for which data are available where the highest share of hours spent by adults in non-formal instruction that was both job-related and sponsored by employers was recorded among those aged 45–54. There were nine Member States where the highest share was recorded for those aged 35–44, five where the highest share was for those aged 55–64 (including all three Baltic Member States) and two where the highest share was recorded for the youngest age group (25–34 years): Luxembourg and the United Kingdom.
In the absence of employer sponsorship, young adults were the most likely to undertake job-related education and training
In 2011, the share of non-formal instruction that was job-related but that was not sponsored by employers fell as a function of age (see Figure 4). This suggests that younger persons (25–34) were the most likely to undertake job-related non-formal instruction without employer sponsorship, while older persons (55–64) were the least likely (perhaps due to a shorter time horizon to benefit from any job-related education and training).
A similar analysis by educational attainment level (see Figure 4 and Table 3) shows that in 2011 a relatively high proportion (71.5 %) of the non-formal instruction undertaken in the EU-28 by those with a tertiary level of education was job-related and sponsored by employers. A similar share (71.2 %) was recorded for those with an intermediate educational attainment, whereas the share recorded among those with a low level of educational attainment was lower, at 65.5 %.
Within the EU-28 in 2011, more than one quarter (27.2 %) of the total hours spent in non-formal job-related adult education and training was within the field of social sciences, business and law. There were three other fields of study which accounted for double-digit shares: services (17.8 %), health and welfare (13.8 %) and science, mathematics and computing (11.4 %).
Between 2007 and 2011, there was little change in relation to the relative importance of the different fields of study in the EU-28 (as shown in Figure 5). The shares of services and general programmes in the total number of hours of job-related non-formal instruction increased most notably, while the biggest reduction was recorded for science, mathematics and computing (the bulk of which could be attributed to the fall in instruction in the use of computers).
In 2011, across 14 of the 27 EU Member States for which data are available, more than one quarter of the total hours in 2011 spent on non-formal instruction in job-related adult education and training were within the field of social sciences, business and law. This share peaked at 41.1 % in Estonia and was just higher than one third in Sweden (35.9 %) and Lithuania (34.7 %).
More than one quarter of the total hours spent on non-formal instruction in job-related adult education and training were within services in 4 of the 27 EU Member States for which data are available. They included Romania and Slovakia, with shares that were only just above 25 %, while in excess of half (51.6 %) of the hours spent on non-formal instruction in job-related adult education and training in Hungary were in the field of services, a share that rose to almost two thirds (64.4 %) in Bulgaria.
There was a relatively high proportion of job-related non-formal instruction of adults given over to general programmes in Denmark, Italy and Luxembourg. In the former, more than one quarter (26.8 %) of all non-formal instruction of adults was job-related and within the field of general programmes, while Italy (13.1 %) and Luxembourg (12.2 %) were the only other EU Member States to record shares that were in double-digits.
Data sources and availability
The fundamental criterion to distinguish learning activities from non-learning activities is that the activity must be intentional (and not by chance — ‘random learning’), in other words, a deliberate search for knowledge, skills, competences or attitudes.
Learning activities may be defined through a classification which provides operationalization and guidelines in particular for non-formal education and training - named classification of learning activities (CLA) - as follows:
- Formal education and training is defined as ‘education that is institutionalised, intentional and planned through public organisations and recognised private bodies and — in their totality — constitute the formal education system of a country’ ;
- Non-formal education and training is defined as any organised and sustained learning activities outside the formal education system. The CLA further distinguishes the following broad categories of non-formal education:
- non-formal programmes;
- courses (which are further distinguished into classroom instruction, private lessons and combined theoretical-practical courses including workshops);
- guided-on-the-job training.
Non-formal education therefore takes place both within and outside educational institutions and may cater for people of all ages. It covers educational programmes and training to impart literacy, life skills, work skills, and general culture.
- Informal learning is less organised and less structured. It may include learning events that occur in the family, in the workplace, and in the daily life of every person, for example, coaching/informal tuition, guided visits, self-learning, learning groups or practice. Note that informal learning is not covered by this article.
The adult education survey (AES) is the source of all information in this article. The AES covers adults’ participation in education and training (formal, non-formal and informal learning) and is one of the main data sources for EU lifelong learning statistics. It covers adults of working-age (25–64 years) living in private household and refers to any education and training in which respondents may have participated during a 12-month period prior to the survey.
Two waves of the AES have been implemented so far, in 2007 and 2011. The former was a pilot exercise and was carried out on a voluntary basis, while the 2011 AES was underpinned by a legal act (Commission Regulation (EU) No 823/2010).
Note on symbols used in tables
The colon (‘:’) is used to show where data are not available.
An italic font is used to show where data are forecasted, provisional or estimated (and are therefore likely to change in the future).
Adults with a low level of educational attainment and a lack of skills are more likely to earn lower than average wages and are more vulnerable to the precarious nature of the labour market. These individuals often suffer from a lack of basic skills that are increasingly considered as essential for a modern-day economy: literacy, numeracy and technological skills (‘digital literacy’). Indeed, in a world that is increasingly characterised by technological change and more precarious employment opportunities, it becomes increasingly unlikely that people can rely on the skills they acquire at school/university to last them until the end of their working lives.
There are a variety of paths that people can potentially follow to gain additional education and training beyond the formal education and training system. Lifelong learning strategies imply investing in people and knowledge — promoting the acquisition of basic skills and providing opportunities for innovative, more flexible forms of learning. They aim to provide people of all ages with equal access to high-quality learning opportunities, and to a variety of learning experiences designed to increase employability, social inclusion and active citizenship.
For some people the decision to re-engage in education and training is a difficult one: it is therefore likely that a range of different approaches are required to offer participants flexible pathways. These may comprise formal, non-formal and informal learning, so that individual’s engage in up-skilling or re-skilling to improve their employment opportunities and lives in general. On the one hand, investment in adult skills has the potential to improve an individual’s quality of life by raising potential earnings, increase their job satisfaction and job opportunities, or promote their social mobility. On the other, from a policy perspective, adult education and training has the potential to help the EU to boost its competitiveness in globalised markets, develop a more highly-skilled workforce to meet employers’ demands, keep an ageing workforce productive and move people out of welfare. Such developments are increasingly important in a global context, given the rapid increase in the level of educational attainment and skills among the workforces of emerging and developing economies.
The strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020) provides a common set of objectives for EU Member States, outlined in eight benchmark targets, one of which foresees an average of at least 15 % of adults in the EU-28 participating in lifelong learning by 2020. This benchmark refers to participation in education and training in the four weeks prior to the survey and data for monitoring this benchmark are provided by the EU labour force survey (EU-LFS). The EU-LFS was chosen to illustrate progress towards the benchmark because it provides annual data on lifelong learning (although only for the 4 weeks prior to the survey) while the AES which measures participation in education and training during the last 12 months is run every five years only.
In 2011, a Council Resolution on Rethinking education: investing in skills for better socio-economic outcomes’ (COM(2012) 0669 final) was adopted by the European Commission in 2012, it covers four key areas:
- developing vocational education and training;
- promoting work-based learning;
- promoting partnerships between public and private institutions (to ensure appropriate curricula and skills provision in the face of skills deficits/bottlenecks); and
- promoting mobility through the ‘Erasmus for All’ programme.
- Education and training in the EU — facts and figures (online publication)
- All pages on education and training
- Vocational education and training statistics
Further Eurostat information
- The EU is moving closer to its Europe 2020 goals on education — news release
- Key data on education in Europe 2012 — statistical book
- Significant country differences in adult learning — Statistics in focus 44/2009
- Education and training, see:
- Participation in education and training (educ_part)
- Adult learning (trng_ad)
- Participation in education and training (last 12 months) (trng_aes_12m0)
- Participation rate in education and training by sex (trng_aes_100)
- Participation rate in education and training by age (trng_aes_101)
- Participation rate in education and training by educational attainment level (trng_aes_102)
- Participation rate in employer-sponsored non-formal education and training by sex (trng_aes_120)
- Distribution of job-related non-formal education and training activities by field (trng_aes_166)
- Share of job-related learning activities among the non-formal education and training by sex (trng_aes_188)
- Share of job-related learning activities among the non-formal education and training by age (trng_aes_189)
- Share of job-related learning activities among the non-formal education and training by educational attainment level (trng_aes_190)
- Time spent on education and training (last 12 months) (trng_aes_12m2)
- Distribution of instruction hours by field (trng_aes_173)
- Participation in education and training (last 12 months) (trng_aes_12m0)
Methodology / Metadata
- Adult education survey (ESMS metadata file — trng_aes_12m0_esms)
- Adult education survey — reference manuals
- Task force report on adult education survey
Source data for tables and graphs (MS Excel)
- European Commission — An agenda for new skills and jobs
- European Commission — Education and training — adult learning
- European Commission — Education and training — Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe (EPALE)
- European Commission — Education and training — skills and qualifications
- European Commission — Education and training — strategic framework for education and training
- European Commission — Education and training — vocational education and training
- European Commission — EU Skills Panorama
- Ireland and Luxembourg did not participate in the 2007 adult education survey; Croatia did not participate in the 2011 adult education survey.
- International Standard Classification of Education 2011, paragraph 36, page 11.