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Adult education policy

Adult education policy is a central research area within the research programme Policy Futures and involves a number of researchers exploring the development and evolution of adult education as a public policy area and the effects of adult education on those targeted by such policies.

Historically, adult education has played a broad role in Denmark and has been seen as having an emancipatory and liberating purpose. The first so-called folk high school was established in 1844 and, although originally a private initiative, the Danish government took responsibility for popular education from an early stage. From 1851, the folk high schools received public subsidies. Thus, adult education has historically been connected to popular movements, nationalism and the idea of enlightenment.

The development of an explicit public adult education policy is of a more recent date and can be traced back to the 1960s where the three strands of adult education (vocational, general and popular adult education) were given equal status despite having different aims. However, it was not until the 1980s that a coherent public policy on adult education was formulated in the form of a ten-point programme for adult teaching and popular education. This ten-point programme balanced the three strands of adult education but emphasized the function of adult education policy as helping develop a democratic way of life. Since the 1980s, adult education has undergone a number of reforms and the balance between its different strands has changed in line with new transnational agendas for lifelong learning and employability. Although adult education in Denmark has distinct national roots, the emphasis of the EU and the OECD on lifelong learning has heavily influenced policy, most recently through the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).

The adult education policy research in Policy Futures looks into different aspects of adult education policy from different theoretical perspectives, drawing on a toolbox of methods and theories. Central to this research is the identification of the subtle drift in adult education policy that has taken place over the past 60 years and not least the influence of transnational actors on Danish adult education policy. A key to understanding contemporary adult education policy is the role played by human capital theory and the vocational turn within adult education policy since the late 1990s. Another central research question relates to the role of the social partners. Skills formation is one of the policy areas where the social partners are extensively involved in all aspects, from the formulation of policies through national councils to advisory functions as part of local school boards. This institutional set-up runs parallel for both youth and adult vocational training. Although this set-up has remained fairly stable since the 1980s recently, conflicting trends can be identified which on the one hand seem to reinforce the role of the social partners and on the other hand to dismantle their role. The role of the unions is especially interesting as continuous adult education has traditionally been highly prioritized in collective agreements, but globalization and a more precarious labour market pose new challenges to the unions and the strategic role of adult education as a means of ensuring employability.