Chapter 6. Building effective co-ordination mechanisms

Adult learning is a complex policy field. It encompasses programmes designed to pursue a variety of objectives and reach different target groups. As a result, the responsibility for adult learning is often split across several ministries, the social partners and stakeholders, and encompasses different levels of governance. In this context, good co-ordination mechanisms are essential to ensure that policies do not duplicate, but reinforce each other. This chapter provides an overview of what OECD countries are doing to improve co-ordination across different actors involved in adult learning, and how adult learning strategies can be used to enhance policy coherence.

    

6.1. Governance and coordination in adult learning

Adult learning is a complex policy field. It encompasses programmes designed to pursue a variety of objectives and reach different target groups, e.g. basic skills courses for the low-skilled, second-chance programmes for school drop-outs, professional training for workers, training for the unemployed, or language classes for migrants. As a result, responsibility for adult learning policy is often split across several ministries, different levels of governance, and a variety of other actors (e.g. the social partners, training providers; NGOs). The different actors involved in adult learning have different responsibilities, pursue different goals, administer separate budgets, and often do not perceive themselves as being part of a joint adult learning system. The sheer diversity within adult learning systems suggests that strong co-ordination mechanisms are essential to ensure that training courses are not duplicated, and that policies are developed in a coherent manner and complement each other.

Over the past years, many countries have taken steps to improve the governance of adult learning systems. The most recent UNESCO GRALE Survey shows that, between 2009 and 2014, many governments across OECD countries have been taking a range of efforts, including to: increase stakeholder participation to develop more effective monitoring and evaluation systems; introduce better co-ordination arrangements; strengthen capacity-building initiatives; and strengthen inter-ministerial cooperation (Figure 6.1).

Figure 6.1. Changes in governance of adult learning systems between 2009 and 2014, OECD countries
Number of OECD country responses
picture

Note: For country-level responses, see Table A D.2.

Source: Based on responses to the UNESCO GRALE III Survey.

Governance and co-ordination mechanisms are not included in the PAL dashboard due to the difficulty of collecting internationally comparable quantitative information on this topic. Therefore, this chapter focusses on policy examples of what OECD countries are doing to enhance co-ordination: i) horizontally across ministries; ii) vertically between ministries and regional/local authorities; iii) between the government and the social partners; and iv) between the government and other stakeholders. The last section focuses on how adult learning strategies can be used to enhance co-ordination across actors and policy coherence.

6.2. Horizontal (inter-ministerial) co-ordination

Unlike other policy areas, adult learning is rarely under the responsibility of one single ministry (UNESCO, 2016[1]). Some formal types of adult learning (e.g. basic skills training, second-chance programmes, and university courses for adults) are typically embedded in the formal education system and therefore fall under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education. Other types of adult learning opportunities (e.g. ALMP training) target the unemployed and generally fall under the responsibility of the Ministry of Labour.

Moreover, adult learning policies typically do not work in isolation but are deeply anchored in a variety of policy fields, which can influence/reinforce each other. To give a few examples, old-age pension measures that increase the retirement age can increase firms’ incentives to invest in older workers’ training; and family policies that expand access to affordable early childhood education and care (ECEC) can free up time for parents to take up adult learning opportunities. Likewise, various policy fields rely on adult learning to achieve their goals: supporting adult learning in firms is a must for innovation policy; and adult learning is a crucial component of migration policy for the integration of immigrants into the labour market and society.

Within this context, good horizontal (inter-ministerial) co-ordination is important to ensure that policies designed by different ministries minimise overlaps, address gaps in adult learning provision, and are mutually reinforcing. OECD countries have adopted various approaches to horizontal cooperation in adult learning. These mechanisms are highly institutionalised in some countries (e.g. inter-sectoral advisory bodies) and sometimes embedded in the legal frameworks or dedicated guidelines. In other countries, horizontal cooperation in adult learning is more informal and/or takes place in the context of a specific policy or programme.

One approach commonly adopted by countries to favour horizontal collaboration is the establishment of inter-sectoral advisory bodies on adult learning. These bodies typically bring together different ministries to jointly work on adult learning, or on aspects related to adult learning policy. They can also facilitate the exchange of information and good practices, take on monitoring tasks, and engage in planning strategies. For example, in Poland, the Inter-Departmental Team for Lifelong Learning is led by the Ministry of Education and is composed of ten other ministries as well as the Prime Minister office (European Commission, 2013[2]).

In some countries, inter-sectoral advisory bodies or teams focus on one specific aspect of adult learning policy, rather than addressing the whole spectrum of adult learning measures. For example, in the Czech Republic, The National Guidance Forum (NGF) – an advisory body established in 2010 by the Minister of Education, Youth and Sports and the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs – aims to ensure inter-ministerial co-ordination of activities and project plans implemented in the field of lifelong guidance.

Other countries have put in place inter-sectoral advisory bodies that cover broader policy areas, with the aim of building complementarities among different policy fields, including adult learning. In Japan, for example, the Council for Designing 100-Year Life society was established in 2017, with the aim of bringing together different stakeholders to discuss the policy challenges associated with a rapidly ageing population, including workers’ continuous up-skilling and adult learning opportunities.

In a few OECD countries, mechanisms to foster horizontal cooperation among different ministries on issues related to adult learning are embedded in the legal framework and/or in dedicated guidelines. For example, Korea has embedded in legislation (Framework Act on Employment Policy) provisions to ensure that adult learning programmes do not overlap and are complementary.1 Switzerland has recently adopted its first law on adult learning, which provides a legal framework for different sectors to cooperate, including health, labour, culture and migration (Kozyra, Motschilnig and Ebner, 2017[3]).

In some countries, horizontal collaboration on adult learning is not institutionalised through formal inter-sectoral advisory bodies or in the legal framework/guidelines, but takes place in the form of regular meetings between officials from different ministries. For example, in Ireland, quarterly meetings take place between various ministries and public bodies involved in adult learning2 to ensure stakeholder engagement and continued liaising in relation to the skills agenda, including adult learning.

Inter-ministerial collaboration can also take place on an ad-hoc basis, typically in the context of a specific policy or programme. In Portugal, for example, there do not seem to be strong permanent co-ordination mechanisms across different ministries (OECD, 2018[4]), yet different ministries collaborate for the implementation of the InCode 2030 strategy – launched in 2017 to equip the adult population with digital skills.

6.3. Vertical co-ordination between different levels of government

Responsibilities for adult learning are often split across different levels of government. Some countries (e.g. Portugal) have a highly centralised system, with the central government being responsible for most of the legislation, policy design, as well as implementation and financing. Other countries (e.g. Italy, Korea) have more decentralised systems where responsibilities are shared between the national level (typically responsible for policy planning) and the regional/local level (typically responsible for implementation). In Federal systems (e.g. Austria, Canada, Germany, United States), the national government typically define broad national objectives, while lower level governments (e.g. states, regions) have the bulk of responsibility for adult learning.

There is no ideal governance model and each approach has its strengths and weaknesses. For example, more centralised systems have the advantage of being simple, accountable and transparent, but there is a risk of misalignment between national policy and local needs. More decentralised systems have the potential to improve alignment with local skills needs and favour the development of innovative practices, but large differences may emerge across the country in terms of provision, funding, and quality of programmes.

Building vertical co-ordination mechanisms can help central governments understand and respond to the specific training and skill needs of local/regional areas. It can allow local actors to better understand and support national adult learning policies. It may also favour the scaling up of positive local/regional practices and the termination of unsuccessful ones.

Some OECD countries have adopted clear leadership and governance arrangements for cooperation that allow various levels of government to work together on adult learning. For example, in Italy regions work with the central state on most issues related to education, including adult learning, through the State-Regions Conference (Conferenza Stato-Regioni) (European Commission, 2015[5]). In July 2014, an agreement was signed between the Government, Regions and Local Authorities, which defined the roles and responsibilities on adult learning across different levels of government.3 In Greece, a law passed in 2013 establishes decentralised services for adult learning: an administration for adult learning is established in each region, monitored by the General Secretariat for Lifelong Learning and Youth (Kozyra, Motschilnig and Ebner, 2017[3]).

In other countries, co-ordination across different levels of government takes place on a less systematic, more ad-hoc, basis, e.g. in the context of a specific policy or programme. For example, in Austria, the Austrian Initiative for Adult Education (AIAE) started in 2012 with the aim of helping the low-skilled/low-qualified4 to finish education. It arose from a cooperation effort between the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education and the nine Austrian provinces. Unlike other adult learning programmes available in the country, AIAE is financed through the national budget, and responds to training quality guidelines that apply to all parts of Austria (Initiative Erwachsenenbildung, 2016[6]). Similarly, in Sweden in the context of the 2015 Kunskapslyftet initiative, municipalities, the PES and other actors responsible for regional development are required to consult in order to access state funding, with a view to ensure that courses correspond to the skills needs of different regions.

6.4. Co-ordination between the government and the social partners

The social partners, i.e. employers’ organisations and trade unions, play an important role in adult learning systems across the OECD. They are often involved in the development, financing, and monitoring of adult learning programmes, and also influence the adult learning agenda by having a say in the policy debate while ensuring that adult learning provisions are reflected in collective agreements (OECD, 2019[7]). Due to their proximity to workers and employers, governments should aim to collaborate with them and involve them in the elaboration and implementation of the adult learning policy agenda.

The social partners in some OECD countries collaborate with the government by jointly developing, or influencing, the adult learning legal framework. For example, in some countries the social partners can be invited to participate in working groups designed to develop or revise the legislation relative to adult learning. In Iceland, for instance, the social partners are currently part of the working group set up to revise the 2010 Adult Education Act. In other countries, they can be called upon to express their views on new legislation regarding adult learning. For example, in Wallonia (Belgium), the social partners are invited to provide feedback on every regional regulatory act (including legislation relative to adult learning), which should be taken into account by government. In Sweden, government proposals – including on adult learning – are typically referred to the social partners who are given the possibility to express their views.

In some OECD countries, cooperation between the government and social partners on adult learning can result in tripartite agreements, which set strategic directions on specific adult learning policy priorities. For example, in Flanders (Belgium), the government and social partners recently reached an agreement (Education and Training Pact, Guldensporenakkoord) on the reform of the Flemish education and training incentives, including the Flemish training vouchers, educational leave and educational credit. In Denmark the social partners and the government have concluded a tripartite agreement on adult and continuing training (VEU) that runs for the period 2018-21 and devotes DKK 400 million (approximately EUR 53.6 million5) to a ‘reconversion fund’, which will enable adults to upgrade their qualifications within their current occupation/sector, or undertake a career shift (Eurofound, 2018[8]).

Some OECD countries have put in place permanent advisory bodies where trade unions and employers’ organisations can advise and influence the government on adult learning policy issues on an ongoing basis. For example, France has a dedicated adult learning social partners advisory body: the COPANEF,6 formed by social partners at the national and inter-sectoral level. COPANEF defines the strategic political orientation in the area of training and employment, ensures their co-ordination with policies defined by other actors. An example of a country with a social partners advisory body that focusses on adult learning among other issues is the Netherlands, where the Dutch Social and Economic Council (SER) – the permanent advisory body for the cabinet and parliament composed by the main trade unions and employers’ organisations, and independent members appointed by the government – has the right to propose new measures to the government, and is consulted on specific policies, including adult learning.

In countries where there is no systematic mechanism for cooperation, the social partners can still contribute to adult learning by participating in ad-hoc meetings and working groups. For example, in Finland, the Ministry of Education has the overall responsibility for developing education policy, including adult learning, but specific issues are discussed in working groups appointed by the ministry, which involve various actors including the social partners.

Finally, the social partners can be called upon to cooperate with the government for the development and implementation of specific adult learning programmes, with a view to ensure that the voices of businesses and employees feed directly into policy. For example, in the UK, the development and implementation of the National Retraining Scheme is being driven by a key partnership between businesses (Confederation of British Industry), workers (Trades Union Congress, TUC) and the government working together. The partnership entails formal meetings two to three times per month. It provides strategic direction and guidance on how the scheme will operate, and oversees development and implementation.

6.5. Co-ordination between the government and other stakeholders

In addition to social partners, stakeholders involved in adult learning include training providers, civil society and NGOs. Because of their proximity to learners, these actors are well placed to understand the skills and training needs of adults. Building mechanisms for cooperation between the government and these additional stakeholders can help governments align adult learning programmes to local needs, facilitate the sharing and replication of good practices, and improve training quality.

Evidence from the UNESCO GRALE III Survey shows that virtually all OECD countries consult stakeholders and civil society on the formulation, implementation and evaluation of adult learning policies (see Table A D.3. in Annex D). Moreover, as highlighted in Figure 6.1, 28 OECD countries report that between 2009 and 2014 the cooperation with stakeholders in the governance of adult learning has improved.

Although in most OECD countries there is consultation with stakeholders for adult learning policy, the type and extent of the consultation process can take different forms. Some countries have established formal procedures, which are embedded in the legal framework. In Slovenia, for example, the Adult Education Act (2018) establishes that prior to adopting the annual programme for adult education (that determines the objectives, priority areas, activities, and funding of adult learning) the government has to obtain the opinion of the Council of Experts of the Republic of Slovenia for Adult Education – a body composed of well-known experts in the field of adult learning appointed by the government. Obligations to cooperate can also go in the other direction, with stakeholders being required to coordinate with the government for training planning and delivery. In Korea, for example, in a view to limit training duplication, since 2016 any vocational training provider has to consult with the Ministry of Employment and Labour in order to change or open a new adult learning programme.

Many OECD countries have established committees/councils, or fora, where stakeholders and the government can meet and have a structured dialogue on adult learning policy. In Quebec (Canada), the CoPMT has 17 multi-stakeholder regional councils and 29 multi-stakeholder sectoral workforce committees that provide inputs into adult learning policies and programmes. In Ireland, the new Further Education and Training Strategy foresees the establishment of a forum for adult learners to help them influence policy decisions.

In some OECD and partner countries, cooperation/consultation is still far from being regular or systematic, with stakeholder involvement largely depending on the goodwill of policy makers, and engagement with stakeholders taking place mainly in the context of specific programmes. Moreover, often consultation with stakeholders only takes place at the early stages of the policy cycle, with little involvement in decision-making processes and policy implementation (Kozyra, Motschilnig and Ebner, 2017[3]). One example of a country where co-ordination with stakeholders has taken place in the context of a specific programme is Portugal, which has carried out an open discussion with civil society on the law that created and implemented the country’s ‘Qualifica’ centres.

6.6. Adult learning strategies

Establishing an adult learning strategy is another way to reach policy coherence. By helping countries identify their vision, objectives, and priorities for action, adult learning strategies can encourage different actors to work together towards a common objective in a coherent manner.

Virtually all countries have developed some type of policy strategy document to support adult learning (European Commission, 2015[9]), either through a stand-alone adult learning strategy, by including adult learning as part of a wider strategy (e.g. industrial strategy; employment strategy; skills strategy), or by focusing on a specific aspect of adult learning (e.g. ICT and digital skills, low-skilled adults). Countries that do not report any specific adult learning strategy typically build on policy directions set out in earlier strategies (European Commission, 2015[9]).

All adult learning strategies identify policy priorities. Across OECD countries, strategies pursue a wide range of objectives. For example, many have focused on one or more of the following: i) developing adults’ basic skills (e.g. the Australian National Foundation Skills Strategy for Adults; and the German National decade for literacy and basic skills); ii) offering jobseekers adult training opportunities aligned with labour market needs (e.g. the Spanish Activation Strategy 2017-20); iii) enhancing workers’ professional training opportunities and apprenticeships (e.g. the French Plan d’investissement dans les compétences); and iv) improving the digital skills of the population (e.g. the Czech Republic’s Digital Literacy Strategy 2015-20).

In some OECD countries, adult learning strategies go beyond setting general policy priorities and overall objectives, and establish measurable (quantitative) targets to be achieved within a predefined deadline. Setting targets can help different actors work together towards a common goal, and allow countries to monitor progress. While setting measurable targets is not systematically adopted by all countries with an adult learning strategy in place – as in many countries targets remain very broad and qualitative – several good practice examples can be highlighted. For example, in Estonia, the Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020 states that by 2020 80% of individuals (age 16-74) should have computer skills (European Commission, 2015[9]). In Latvia, the Action Plan 2016-20 on the Development of Adult Education Provision and its Governance Model aims to increase Latvia’s participation rate in adult learning from 5.7% in 2015 to 15% by 2020. In Slovenia, the Development Strategy 2030 adopts a target to increase the participation of 25-64 year olds in learning from 11.6% (2016) to 19% by 2030.7 In Australia, the National Foundation Skills Strategy for Adults aims to equip at least two thirds of working age Australians with literacy and numeracy skills at level 3 or above (benchmarked to PIAAC) by 2022. In Portugal, the Qualifica Programme aims to achieve an adult participation rate in lifelong learning activities of 25% by 2025. In Poland, the Lifelong Learning Perspective aims to have at least 10% of people aged 25-64 participating in education or training (in a given month).

In order to ensure that policy directions are effectively implemented and targets are achieved, governments can allocate dedicated funding to the implementation of adult learning strategies. While in many countries governments do not allocate any specific funding to adult learning strategies, good examples can be highlighted. For example, in Ireland, an allocation of nearly EUR 826 million was made in 2014, and another EUR 645 million in 2018, for the provision of Further Education and Training Strategy 2014-19. In Latvia, the Adult Education Governance Model 2016-20 is being implemented with the support of EU funds. In Estonia, the Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020 involves concrete financial resources to implement the activities and measures, mainly covered by the European Social Fund. France has devoted EUR 15 billion for the implementation of the Plan d'Investissement dans les Competences for the period 2018-22. Germany has destined around EUR 180 million for the implementation of the National Decade for Literacy and Basic Skills, until 2026.

In many countries, adult learning strategies are subject to weak monitoring mechanisms. This can make it difficult to assess if policy actions are making a difference and if they are efficient (European Commission, 2015[10]). That being said, some countries do monitor progress in the achievement of the adult learning strategy, and keep track of progress either through mid-term reviews/reports, and/or by setting up dedicated overseeing bodies/expert groups. In Ireland, the implementation of the Further Education and Training Strategy 2014-19 is overseen through mid-term reviews, which assess progress in the implementation of the plan. In the Czech Republic, the implementation of the Digital Literacy Strategy 2015-20 is evaluated each year, and an interim performance report is prepared. In Brussels (Belgium), a supervision body (Observatoire bruxellois de l’Emploi et de la Formation) has been created to monitor the deliverables, achievement, timing and resources put in place to implement the Plan Formation 2020. In Slovenia, the Adult Education Master Plan (AEMP) for 2013-20 is monitored by a mandated expert group every two years.

Table 6.1. Examples of adult learning strategies, OECD and emerging countries

 

Adult learning strategy

Contains quantitative targets

Sets deadlines

Has dedicated funding

Is monitored

Name of the strategy

Stand- alone

Part of a wider strategy

Specific aspect

No

Argentina

x

 

Australia

x

x

x

x

x

National Foundation Skills Strategy for Adults

Austria

x

x

x

Austrian Initiative for Adult education

Belgium

x

x

x

x

x

x

Plan Formation 2020 (Brussels), Lifelong learning and a dynamic professional career (Flanders)

Canada

x

x

Innovation and skills plan in Budget 2017

Chile

x

 

Czech Republic

x

x

x

x

x

Digital literacy strategy 2015-20

Denmark

x

Strategy for Lifelong Learning (2007)

Estonia

x

x

x

x*

x

Lifelong Learning Strategy

France

x

x

x

x

x**

Plan d' Investissement dans les Compétences

Germany

x

x

x

x

National decade for literacy and basic skills

Greece

x

National lifelong learning programme 2013-15

Hungary

x

x

x

Lifelong Learning Policy Framework Strategy

2014-20

Iceland

x

 

Ireland

x

x***

x

x

Further Education and Training Strategy 2014-19

Italy

x

 

Japan

x

x

x

x

Growth strategy 2017

Korea

x

3rd Basic plan for vocational skills development

Latvia

x

x

x

x

x

AL − Adult Learning Development Plan (2016)

Luxembourg

x

x**

Stratégie Lifelong Learning (adopted in 2012)

Norway

x

x

National Skill Strategy 2017–21

Poland

x

x

x

x

Lifelong learning perspective

(Perspektywa uczenia się przez całe życie)

Portugal

x

x

x

x

Qualifica programme

Romania

x

x

x

x

x

National lifelong learning strategy 2015 -20

Slovak Republic

x

 

Slovenia

x

x

x

x

x

Adult Education Master Plan (AEMP) for 2014-20

Spain

x

x****

x

Strategic lifelong learning plan

Sweden

x

 

Switzerland

x

x

x

x

Promotion of the basic skills of adults 2017-20

Turkey

x

x****

x

x

Lifelong learning strategy paper and an action plan (2014-18)

United Kingdom

x

‘People’, one of the five pillars of the Industrial Strategy

Note: * Funding is based on the strategy, but funded by the budget; ** Strategy states that a committee should be set up to monitor the progress and the indicators; *** Specific quantitative targets are laid out by department of Education and skills; **** Very specific indicators for the monitoring, although no reference value provided in the strategy.

Source: OECD Adult Learning Policy Questionnaire and national sources.

References

[8] Eurofound (2018), “Denmark: Social partners welcome new tripartite agreement on adult and continuing education”, https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/printpdf/observatories/eurwork/articles/denmark-social-partners-welcome-new-tripartite-agreement-on-adult-and-continuing-education (accessed on 28 May 2018).

[9] European Commission (2015), “Adult Education and Training in Europe: Widening Access to Learning Opportunities”.

[10] European Commission (2015), “An in-depth analysis of adult learning policies and their effectiveness in Europe”.

[5] European Commission (2015), Improving Policy and Provision for Adult Learning in Europe - Report of the Education and Training 2020 Working Group on Adult Learning 2014-2015.

[2] European Commission (2013), “Lifelong learning programme, implementation of the European Agenda for Adult Learning: Poland”, http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/LLp/project_reports/documents/adult-learning/progress_report_poland.pdf (accessed on 30 May 2018).

[6] Initiative Erwachsenenbildung (2016), The Austrian Initiative for Adult Education.

[3] Kozyra, A., R. Motschilnig and G. Ebner (2017), “The status of adult learning and education in Europe and North America”, UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0025/002597/259721E.pdf (accessed on 31 May 2018).

[7] OECD (2019), Getting Skills Right: Making adult learning work in social partnership.

[4] OECD (2018), Skills Strategy Implementation Guidance for Portugal: Strengthening the Adult-Learning System, OECD Skills Studies, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264298705-en.

[1] UNESCO (2016), “Third Global Report on Adult Learning and Education: The Impact of Adult Learning and Education on Health and Well-Being; Employment and the Labour Market; and Social, Civic and Community Life”, http://uil.unesco.org/system/files/grale-3.pdf (accessed on 27 December 2017).

Notes

← 1. The Ministry of Employment and Labour has developed guidelines (The 2018 Guidelines for the Design and Operation of Government-Funded Employment Programs) to prevent different ministries from implementing similar and overlapping programs, i.e. programmes that share similar objectives, content, and target groups.

← 2. Namely Further Education and Training Authority (SOLAS), the Department of Education and Skills (DES) and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP).

← 3. For example, the agreement establishes that national authorities are responsible for policy planning, monitoring and evaluation, regions are responsible for making an integrated use of available adult learning resources, and identify skills needs at the regional level.

← 4. Namely those lacking basic skills or never graduated from a lower secondary school.

← 5. As of 5 March 2018.

← 6. CNEFOP and FPSPP will merge into France Compétence in the future.

← 7. Based on a Labour Force Survey measurement of participation in the last four weeks.

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