People are spending billions of pounds on their own learning – more than the government or employers – according to new research.
Analysis published today by Learning and Work Institute claims that learners invest £7.3 billion of their own money and £55 billion worth of their own time in education each year – well in excess of the £42 billion annual investment by employers, and the £6.8 billion in tax reliefs and learning provision by the government.
It equates to £323 per learner studying an average 223 hours annually, the report said.
The research also exposed the postcode lottery of participation in learning, due to the age and pre-existing qualifications of the population. Participation in London was highest at 56 per cent compared to 36 per cent in the south east.
The report noted that learning on apps such as Duolingo and online provision such as FutureLearn had risen in recent years, driven by technology and people’s preferences, with the training sector needing to adapt to the convenience those offer.
Stephen Evans, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute, said the current landscape was “too patchy” but both a mix of traditional classroom learning and flexible online options would be needed.
“One of the biggest barriers to learning that we see regularly is fitting learning around the work and home life, and these sorts of things can really help to do that,” he said.
“I think what we are arguing for really is to have different ways into learning to better suit people. Sometimes that is classroom-based, traditionally scheduled, sometimes it is an app, sometimes it is a mix of the two.”
Data on individual investment in education was an estimate taken from the institute’s adult participation in learning survey, in which respondents were asked how much they had paid for the training and the number of hours per week.
However, it was noted that some participants might have included things such as university tuition fees while others did not.
The report has called for new learning accounts for all adults, with a £5,000 contribution to course fees, and enhanced maintenance support so that out-of-work adults can study full-time for up to 12 months rather than 12 weeks as is currently allowed on the Department for Work and Pensions’ Train and Progress scheme.
The report said that the current landscape of government support, such as advanced learner loans and the planned lifetime loan entitlement due to launch in 2025, is too complicated, and called for a “lifelong learning entitlement” to effectively bring different support streams under one umbrella.
In addition, the Learning and Work Institute wants the right to request time to train for those in work to be extended. Currently, only employees in organisations with 250 or more staff members have a right to request time to train, and only for learning directly linked to their job.
The institute wants that to be extended to all learners, cover all accredited learning and to become a right to train, not just a right to request, for larger employers.
On its proposals for a one-year unpaid career break, the institute said people would remain employed but be entitled to a maintenance loan from the government, but would not be paid by their employer during that time to reduce the burden on employers.
Evans said not providing flexibility for learning “holds back” the economy as well as the life chances and wellbeing of adults, explaining that the investment in learning from individuals is “underplayed”.
He added: “Our analysis shows huge inequalities between demographic groups and geographic areas that are holding us all back. Part of the reason is that policy doesn’t sufficiently support people to learn. We need much better support with the costs of learning, good-quality careers advice, and joined-up national and local action to promote learning.”
A spokesperson from the Department for Education said: “We are boosting investment in skills by £3.8 billion over this parliament – working with employers to create more apprenticeships, offering more skills bootcamps and creating a new lifelong loan entitlement from 2025 to make it easier for people to learn throughout their lifetime.