Increasingly rapid demographic, economic, social and technological changes are increasing the reliance on the most relevant and advanced levels of knowledge and skills that need to be updated throughout life. Participation in lifelong learning, or more specifically in adult education and training (formal and non-formal) on which Roosmaa’s doctoral thesis focuses, is a possibility to cope with success to changes in the labor market and society in general.
According to Eurostat’s 2016 Adult Education Survey, around 45% of 25-64 year olds in Europe have participated in adult education and training (AET) in the last 12 months. Among the countries of the European Union, Estonia is in the middle, the highest participation rate in adult education and training (AETP) is found in Sweden and the Netherlands (64%) and the lowest in Romania (7%). Learners report that the knowledge they acquire is largely job-related. The rate of AETP has increased in all countries over the years, but the inequality of participation between different social groups remains. The doctoral thesis focuses on AETP and participation inequalities in Europe by comparing the pre-enlargement countries of the European Union (EU-15) with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (EU-8). In order to study inequalities in participation in ELA, research focuses on comparing people in higher and lower professional positions. In addition, inequalities of age, gender, level of education and position in the labor market in participation are also examined and what are the barriers that prevent AETP among those who do not participate and do not want to participate.
Applying a multilevel perspective, this PhD thesis explores patterns of AETP at the micro, meso, and macro levels. In other words, the question is how individual, occupational, institutional and other characteristics (such as the education system, the labor market and welfare state institutions and the structure of qualifications and occupations in a country) shape participation in AET. In a broader sense, this implies that AETP and the effects of specific structural characteristics are embedded in societal norms, practices, and the political and economic climate. The micro level has been widely studied, as research on TWA has been largely dominated by human capital theory, which emphasizes individual rational choice and thus minimizes the impact of the macro level. The main objective of this doctoral thesis is the macro level because its characteristics allow to understand the differences of AETP between countries.
At the micro level, the results of the doctoral thesis confirm the well-known trend that it is the most advantaged social groups that have the highest rates of AETP: people who have higher levels of education, exercise trades requiring a high level of skills, are employed and belong to younger age groups. Thus, the rate of AETP is lower in those who could benefit the most. This so-called Matthew effect or “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”, in sociological terms of the accumulation of (dis)advantages, is present in all European countries, although the extent of the inequality of the AETP between different social groups differs. Therefore, it seems that inequality is less important among countries where the rate of AETP among the general population is high. However, a detailed analysis from Estonia suggests distinguishing between different types of AET, as specific types of learning (eg less formal or non-work-related) can reduce existing social inequalities.
Barriers faced by those who do not participate in WSL are rarely studied: research generally focuses on people who already participate or wish to participate in learning activities, which means that lack of motivation is not considered an obstacle. However, it is more difficult to overcome barriers or encourage interest in AET among non-participants. In addition, people who do not intend to participate in AET tend to be at a disadvantage in the labor market, which is why they could benefit the most from participation. The rate of people who do not want to take part in TWA has decreased over the years, but remains significant: 38% in EU-15 countries and 50% in EU-8 countries. Research shows that the most common barriers to not participating in WEI are dispositional – people feel too old to learn in an organized setting, their health is a barrier, or they don’t want to go back to school. Therefore, it is important to increase people’s self-confidence in their ability to follow learning and to better explain the purpose and use of learning. This implies that teachers and instructors should have more time to approach learners individually and establish close contact with them. AET should also include informal or experiential learning, as it is less tied to the typical classroom setting, compared to formal and non-formal learning. This could help those with previous negative learning experiences to perceive learning as a natural and enjoyable process. Many people perceive structural barriers to AET related to everyday life, such as lack of time due to family or work responsibilities or a perceived lack of employer support. For this reason, the state and employers should strive to find better ways to reconcile family and professional life with learning activities, as people have different needs and expectations. The analysis shows that countries with different institutional frameworks deal with barriers to AET differently. A positive example is Northern Europe where macro-level characteristics help alleviate individual and structural barriers to AET.
Analysis of the impact of specific institutions shows that, in the EU-15, several macro-level characteristics are linked to less inequality in TVET between occupational groups: comprehensive education system, labor market regulations relatively flexible, higher spending on active labor market policies, role of trade unions and collective bargaining coverage. However, in the EU-8 countries, the most important characteristic is the highest level of education attained, although there is also some link between active labor market measures and trade unions. The impact of institutional features in the case of EU-8 countries could be less ambiguous if these were “complemented” by a more open and flexible AET system that values both general knowledge and skills and related to the labor market. Moreover, the focus should not only be on the so-called “supply side”, on improving knowledge and skills and increasing the level of education. Participation in EFAs is also influenced by demand, that is, the demand and need for skills in the workplace. Research shows that while supply is strongly related to AETP and decreasing inequality, its relationship with demand is stronger, especially in EU-8 countries. Therefore, it is important to understand how knowledge and skills are applied in the labor market, which could in turn increase motivation to participate in AET if the long-term outcomes and benefits are more explicit. Therefore, education policies should also address workplace innovation.
The doctoral thesis supervisors are Ellu Saar, professor at the University of Tallinn and Rein Vöörmann (in memoriam).
The opponents of the doctoral thesis are Pepka Boyadjieva, professor at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and Richard Desjardins, professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.
The doctoral thesis is available in the ETERA digital environment of the University Library of the University of Tallinn. https://www.etera.ee/zoom/177850/view?page=1&p=separate&search=anne%20randv%C3%A4li&tool=search
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