Skills beyond school

Financing Lifelong Learning


The goal of achieving lifelong learning is ambitious in its aims to engage all citizens in the process of learning. It is complex because it breaks with past education reforms by defining in new ways the content, place, timing and duration of learning. Perhaps more fundamentally, it shifts the focus of policy from institutions to learners. In this context, the answer to the question of how societies will find the resources for lifelong learning will depend on how society defines the new mandate, and the priority it is given.

Given the severe constraints on resources, however, public authorities are under intense political pressure to limit spending. Enterprises are under intense competitive pressure to reduce costs or otherwise ensure that investments are cost-effective and improve productivity; individuals are constrained by a combination of slow real wage growth, and high and persistent risk of unemployment. The extent to which lifelong learning for all can be made a reality depends in large degree on the extent to which lifelong learning can be made more "affordable". This in turn depends on three issues:

  • what is meant by "lifelong learning" and how ambitious or how modest is the vision of lifelong learning to be implemented;
  • whether lifelong learning can deliver greater value for money, thus strengthening the economic and social incentives to invest in lifelong learning; and
  • whether net new financial resources can be found in the public and private sector, possibly by making it easier to pay out of past savings or future benefits.

The OECD is investigating these issues through a number of approaches. National authorities in 12 countries have prepared reports that outline the early contours of lifelong learning strategies. They estimate the resources required to implement such strategies, and describe policies and practices to make lifelong learning more affordable. These reports have been synthesised in the publication Where are the Resources for Lifelong Learning? Early Progress Towards Affordability.

The Secretariat has undertaken its own analysis of the costs of implementing lifelong learning under different policy scenarios in Chapter 1 of the 1999 OECD publication Education Policy Analysis . More detailed sectoral studies examine resource issues that arise in tertiary education, and with respect to adults.

In collaboration with outside public and private partners, the Secretariat investigated the feasibility of improving incentives for companies to invest in human resources by improving the information available to investors and lenders on the impact of such investments on company performance and market valuation. An International Symposium on Measuring and Reporting Intellectual Capital , held in Amsterdam in June 1999, concluded that there is demand in capital markets for better information on how companies manage human resources and other forms of intellectual capital, and that it would be technically feasible to provide such information. [ Chairman's conclusions ]. The Secretariat is proceeding in developing an approach that companies might use in reporting such information through a Public/Private Forum on Value Creation in the Knowledge Economy

An international conference , held in Ottawa, 6-8 December 2000, debated the results of this phase of the OECD's work in this area, and their implications for policy