Decreasing funding levels – and yet expecting miracles?

Read EAEA’s statement on decreasing funding on ALE (pdf)

Despite the European Union’s emphasis on prioritising Adult Learning and Education (ALE) through various initiatives and strategies, recent reports from EAEA’s members reveal that a majority of countries and regions are witnessing stagnant or reduced funding for ALE. The argument put forward by political decision-makers is the economic situation of the respective countries: We believe that this is an extremely short-sighted approach.

ALE has multifaceted benefits for individuals, communities, the economy, and society, promoting social inclusion, sustainability, active citizenship, and more. The current trend will lead to job losses for educators, has a negative impact on quality learning provision, and limits the access of adults to learning

Hundreds of job losses in the folk high schools in Sweden

EAEA notes that Sweden and Finland are among the countries reporting a sharp decline in funding levels. Both countries have traditionally provided strong public support for non-formal ALE. In Sweden, hundreds of educators at folk high schools have already lost their jobs and the proposed state budget cuts a third of the state funding for non formal study organisations. in Finland the new government has announced major “austerity measures” to reduce public spending on non-formal ALE by up to 20 percent of the current financing levels in 2024, and more cuts in the following years.

Some EAEA members report that they are observing a trend towards a deliberate shift in funding from the national level to the European level: Funding of ALE in many countries increasingly depends to a high degree on EU funding instruments. This is the case in Slovakia, where an improvement in the funding situation is expected next year, primarily thanks to ESF+. Not all countries use the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP) to fund ALE. The countries that do make use of the NRRP mainly use it to fund formal employment-related education and training.

The exemption of ALE from VAT remains controversial topic in many countries. Many EAEA members report that the fiscal categorisation of ALE leads to financial uncertainties and problems. Non commercial educational activities are exempt from VAT in most European countries, but there appear to be changes to this in some countries, including Germany. The taxation of learning programmes has a strong financial impact on ALE providers.

Despite funding cuts and major issues concerning the sustainability of funding instruments, ALE is expected to help solve key European challenges such as the ‘skills shortages’ in many European countries. A European target is that 60% of all adults should participate in learning by 2030. This requires adequate funding and resources.