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“The full impact of Brexit to adult education in the UK is still unknown”

Authors: Tuomas MacGilleon Published:

The EU offers funding and transnational learning opportunities – but it could do even more for adult education. In three articles, professionals from Germany, Romania and the United Kingdom reflect on the importance, impact and issues that the European Union has brought to adult education in their countries.

United Kingdom: Joyce Black 

  • Assistant Director for Research & Development at the Learning and Work Institute (L&W) in the United Kingdom. 
  • L&W is an independent policy research and development organisation dedicated to lifelong learning, full employment and inclusion. 
  • EAEA Vice President and board member. 
  • Elected Chair of the European Basic Skills Network (EBSN). 
  • UK National Coordinator for the European Agenda for Adult Learning. 

“The biggest benefit of the European Union to the adult education field in the UK has been the good transnational work between European partners, and key to that has been our engagement to the Erasmus+ programme. 

You cannot underestimate the value of shared experience, evidence and development opportunities, such as mobility programmes and strategic partner work – and having the full mechanism to make these happen. This is what it is all about, and unfortunately this is what the UK may lose, as we are scheduled to leave the EU in 2019-2020. 

Brexit will have a big impact on our field of work. Aside from Erasmus+ and the funding questions, the European Semester is currently starting their discussions. We are no longer part of those discussions, which is a real shame. There is a lot of positive work that could be done – particularly around adult learning. 

One of the issues is that adult learning does not have a natural home within the various directorates of the Commission and does not have an assigned committee, even though Vocational Education and Training (VET) has one. 

It almost seems like adult learning is either not discussed at all within the Commission, or it is in the margins. I believe this is a missed opportunity. 

WE DO NOT KNOW all the consequences of Brexit to our work yet. What is now being debated, for example, is whether we can continue to take part in currently funded Erasmus+ projects, many of which will run until 2020–2022. 

Our government has pledged to continue the support for these, but we do not yet know what will happen. Meanwhile, this impacts all proposals in which the UK has partner organisations, because it constitutes a risk for other countries. 

We are pushing together with various stakeholders to have a replacement for the European structural funds that we are sharing as a current member. Currently there is about £500 million worth of employment and skills support for the UK every year. 

We are now trying to convince the government that we should have a similar level of funding from our own UK budget. This is a real opportunity to have a replacement fund that is more streamlined and simplified. After all, these funds are for people and communities who are poorly served or neglected by mainstream employment or education services. 

At the moment there is a lot of uncertainty around Brexit and the impacts of it. An added challenge is that the UK is a devolved nation in terms of its education policies. England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales all have their own administration and their own relationship to Europe. 

I am hopeful that the UK will still be involved in collaborative and partnership work within and across Europe. We know that transnational partnership working is essential for bringing about change, for learning and for thinking that you have increasing evidence of policy change.” 

Continue to read the other two voices, from Germany and Romania.

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Tuomas MacGilleon is a freelance journalist based in Tampere, Finland. Interested in science and how it affects our everyday lives. Contact: Show all articles by Tuomas MacGilleon
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