AGE has recently responded to two Commission consultations on life-long learning:
- a consultation on individual learning accounts explored the possibility to create accounts for every individual which would be credited by employers, public authorities or people themselves and be redeemed through education and life-long learning offers.
- a consultation on micro-credentials, i.e. certifications, for small learning experiences, which asks what should be the criteria and quality standards for such credentials.
AGE believes that both initiatives, especially taken together, can help foster a culture of life-long learning. However, specific, age-related barriers should be addressed in both initiatives.
Challenges to access education and learning in older age
In our contribution, we remind of the barriers older persons face in accessing life-long learning which emerged from our work on the right to education for the United Nations and our contribution to the Commission’s Digital Education Action Plan: education and training policies are often not thought of as policies including older persons; explicit or implicit age barriers, such as restricting educational policies to workers, reduce the participation of people above statutory pension age, and even older workers have the lowest participation rates in life-long learning of all age groups. Educational opportunities are often not designed with the needs of older learners in mind, be it in terms of educational content, barriers to information provision and registration (such as an all-digital information and registration strategy), lack of opportunities for persons with disabilities or in rural areas.
Individual learning accounts to foster a life-long learning culture
The idea of individual learning accounts has been on the radar of the European Commission for some time. The European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan foresees their realisation by the end of 2021.
The announced initiatives can help mitigate such barriers. Individual learning accounts could help training entitlements to be accumulated throughout a professional career and used at any moment, whether in employment or in periods of economic inactivity. For this, they should
- be portable between employment statuses and jobs, and ideally also cross-border;
- be financed by employers and public authorities, to include persons who could not afford an additional contribution and those who are less likely to redeem their credits for various reasons (lack of time, suitable training in their area, etc.);
- remain valid after retirement so that education and life-long learning can become part of a retirement pathway as much as of a career, eventually leading to re-employment later on.
By enabling workers to learn following the opportunities that best suit them (and not only their employer), individual learning accounts can contribute to a life-long learning culture in a changing working environment which requires continuing upskilling and where longer working lives make it more necessary to embrace career changes. However, an important requirement for the success of these accounts has not been included in the consultation: the right to take paid educational leave from employment for redeeming learning credits should be introduced as well.
Micro-credentials essential to build acceptance of life-long learning
Micro-credentials, as envisaged by the European Commission, are an important and complementary element in building this life-long learning culture. By providing credentials for acquired skills and competences, training providers make their offers more attractive to employers, and therefore for employees who can valorise them in their CVs. They can also help in certifying skills and competencies acquired from non-formal and informal learning.
This requires however:
- credible quality criteria which should rely on what the learner has achieved rather than on the form of learning (formal or informal);
- micro-credentials that are recognisable across borders of EU member states to foster learning mobility;
- micro-credentials that count towards professional qualifications, e.g. by replacing a module required to reach a certain qualification where appropriate.
We are positive about both initiatives and want to outline in our contributions measures to make those initiatives more relevant to older workers and to address the challenges posed by demographic change.
- Joint AGE Position paper on the two consultations on individual learning accounts and on micro-credentials
- AGE response to the Commission questionnaire on individual learning accounts
- AGE response to the Commission questionnaire on micro-credentials
- AGE work on the digital education action plan
- AGE work on the right to education in the framework of the United Nations (substantive input on the barriers in education and normative input on how to frame a human right to education in older age)
For further information, you may contact Philippe Seidel, email@example.com