Breaking down barriers to lifelong learning in higher education

Recommendation for the Flemish action plan for lifelong learning

The OECD numbers confirm that participation in lifelong learning in Flanders is particularly low, also in higher education. Only a small proportion of adults participate in lifelong learning initiatives after obtaining their diploma or obtain a diploma of higher education at a later age.

How can the role of higher education in lifelong learning be strengthened in Flanders? The Vlor exposes a few obstacles and gives some pointers for the Partnership for Lifelong Learning. By June 2021, this partnership must present an ambitious action plan with which the Flemish government can sharpen its policy on lifelong learning.

A wide vision of lifelong learning

Lifelong learning starts at birth and continues throughout life. In this vision of lifelong learning, a general culture of learning is central and must be fostered from an early age. After all, lifelong learning benefits not only individuals, but also organisations and companies and promotes a healthy society in all its facets.

What role can higher education play within the vision of lifelong learning? Although lifelong learning in higher education is often aimed at strengthening the position on the labour market and career development, it is also done for the purpose of self-development, social integration and social participation. There are therefore different profiles of learners participating in lifelong learning in higher education. Some have not acquired a basic higher education qualification and combine higher education with their professional activities later in life. Others have a basic level of education and are re-entering in order to retrain, upskill or update themselves.

Lifelong learning in higher education is often associated with the wide range of continuing education programmes, for example, from shorter day or evening courses, to courses lasting several days and to parts of courses that can be taken with credit contracts. In addition, the offer of lifelong learning in higher education also includes various other programmes. There are also the basic programmes (graduate, bachelor and master programmes, preparation and bridging programmes) in which working students participate, or the programmes aimed at extending the knowledge and skills from initial bachelor or master programmes (i.e. banabas, manamas or postgraduates).

Barriers and recommendations

The Vlor calls for measures to strengthen the learning culture among learners, to provide them with correct information about the training on offer, and to encourage them to participate in lifelong learning in higher education through well thought-out training incentives and a broader interpretation of the EVC.

For lifelong learning providers, the barriers around funding, both for identifying work-study students and for setting up a post-initial lifelong learning offer in higher education, need to be addressed.

In terms of organisation of education, the Vlor emphasises the importance of a more flexible way of organising lifelong learning provision in higher education via, for example, micro-credentials or micro-degrees, of harmonising regulations with the new digital and 'blended' forms of education, and of coordination and cooperation between various actors in the field of lifelong learning.