Over the Hill and of Little Economic Prospect: The fall of lifelong learning and its impact on social mobility

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


In the UK in recent years, funding for lifelong learning (19+ but excluding university study) has severely decreased (Gouthro, 2017), resulting in missed opportunities for life improvement for many people. Arguably, one of the (mostly unacknowledged) reasons for ‘drying up’ this type of funding is the perception that financial investment in adult education will only yield small returns. Indeed, adults are often perceived as relatively poor economic units (particularly in relation to their younger counterparts) and this presents a problematic interrelationship between learning and the economy (Lynch, 2008). This paper, then, explores the recent policy discourse on lifelong learning and social mobility, identifying the potential impact on opportunities for adult education and social progression. It argues that a narrow focus of social mobility – couched in terms of its economic contribution to society – results in greater marginalisation of adult members of society, whereby older learners are denigrated for their perceived inability to yield high interest rates for their investment capital. As it has been estimated that the workforce of 2030 will comprise one-third adult labour, policy tension is thus identified, where recent government recommendations for improving social mobility are juxtaposed with the significantly decreased focus on lifelong learning.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 8 Jun 2018



  • Lifelong learning
  • social mobility
  • adult education

Cite this