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Expert Group publishes report on Lifelong Learning

Ireland’s rates below EU average

Early implementation of measures in the National Skills Strategy key to improving participation levels

The Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN), today 29 July 2016, published a report on Lifelong Learning in Ireland.  The report, which was prepared by the Skills and Labour Market Research Unit in SOLAS on behalf of the Group, finds that the participation rate of adults in Ireland in Lifelong Learning lags behind the European average. In 2014, our participation rate of just under 7% was well below the EU average of almost 11%. Furthermore, the gap between Ireland’s participation rate and the EU average widened between 2009 and 2014.  

More recent data from the CSO’s Quarterly National Household Survey shows that in Quarter 4 of 2015, Ireland’s participation in Lifelong Learning was 7.2%. Other key findings in the EGFSN report are:

  • of the population of almost 2.5 million adults aged 25-64 in Ireland, 177,300 people participated in Lifelong Learning activities in Quarter 4 2015;
  • the majority of these (amounting to 116,700 persons) participated in formal learning activities (i.e. education and training in the regular system of schools, universities, colleges and other formal educational institutions);
  • the remainder participated in non-formal learning activities (i.e. other organised and sustained educational activities which may or may not take place in educational institutions);
  • with a participation rate of 8%, females were more likely than males (at 6.3%) to participate in Lifelong Learning, particularly in non-formal learning activities;
  • lifelong learning participation rates tend to decline with age, but participation is greater amongst those with higher educational attainment levels;
  • participation rates were above the national average for the economically inactive and the unemployed, while the rate was below the national average for those in employment;
  • Ireland’s participation rate in non-formal learning is particularly low, although its rate of formal learning is amongst one of the highest in the EU.


Speaking at the publication of the report Lifelong Learning Participation Amongst Adults in Ireland, the Chair of the EGFSN, Una Halligan, said:

 “The Expert Group on Future Skills Needs is concerned that Ireland’s participation in Lifelong Learning has been consistently below the EU average, particularly for those in employment. We have a well-educated and highly skilled labour force, but it is important that people of all ages and at all educational levels participate in learning and upskilling on an on-going basis in order to sustain their employability. All forms of learning, whether formal or non-formal, contribute to the skills enhancement and personal development of individuals.

The continuous training and up-skilling of people in the workforce is particularly important in maintaining the competitiveness of Irish-based businesses and in ensuring that employees’ skills do not become obsolete. For wider society, research points to positive social effects of Lifelong Learning on personal development, health and quality of life, and on civic participation.  

The National Skills Strategy, published in January 2016, recognises the importance of Lifelong Learning and includes a target of increasing the participation rate amongst adults to 10% in the medium-term.

Commenting on the Skills Strategy, Ms. Halligan concluded: “The Expert Group welcomes the emphasis which is placed on Lifelong Learning in the National Skills Strategy 2025 and calls for the early implementation of the measures set out in the Strategy as key to improving Ireland’s Lifelong Learning participation rates. These include increased promotion of the benefits of Lifelong Learning among the general population, benchmarking the level of investment by businesses in workforce training, appropriate approaches to funding of education and training providers that support flexible learning opportunities, and promoting the dissemination of good practice in the Recognition of Prior Learning.”

The Expert Group on Future Skills Needs will continue to monitor participation rates in Lifelong Learning on an annual basis.

Read the full report here.