Published: 3-01-2012, 12:08

Overview of Lifelong Learning Policies and Systems

Since lifelong learning systems embodying various policies are emerging in a variety of unique contexts, they represent very different perspectives from country to country. This article reviews lifelong learning policy models proposed by Green (2000), including market-led, state-led, and socialpartnership- led approaches. Different policy initiatives and/or systems can be deemed to belong to one of three different models, although they may not correspond precisely. This article depicts seven well-known policy examples according to the three models.

Three Models of Lifelong Learning Policy

During the past two decades, the significance of lifelong learning has emerged and many influential policy documents have been released to promote it throughout the world. However, policies implemented in particular contexts according to different rationales yield substantially different results. Consequently, lifelong learning policies initiated by various governmental bodies can be deemed to belong to different types; have different characteristics, emphases, and objectives; and require different kinds of interventions. To sketch out a number of different lifelong learning policies, analytical models need to be selected carefully.

Green (2000) proposes three hypothetical models of lifelong learning policy including market-led, state-led, and social-partnership-led approaches: ‘‘some policies stress the role of the market and the responsibility of the individual; some advocate the central role of the state in orchestrating and managing the learning society; others emphasize social partnership among multiple stakeholding’’ (p. 35). It is acknowledged that the models can be regarded as positions along a continuum.

In the market-led model, there is a belief that lifelong learning is an individual project, and, therefore, the burden of lifelong learning tends to fall on the shoulders of the individual learner. Today’s global market forces individuals to take responsibility for their own learning for personal growth and development. Both employers and individuals have to make decisions about what kinds of skills and knowledge should be acquired. In this sense, learning supply through education and training can be decided based on the needs of the market, represented by employers and individuals. In the labor market, employers play a central role in providing lifelong learning for individuals at work (PARN, 2002). As the market has a more privileged position in this model, the role of the state and civil society is relatively neglected (Rubenson, 2006). On the other hand, there are some weaknesses in this approach: market-led lifelong learning policies can lead to underinvestment, inequality, and low quality (Green, 2000).

The state-led model allows governments to invent lifelong learning systems through legislation, controlling bodies, and related policy activities. The state plays a key role as a planner; at the same time, it can be the primary source of funds and quality control for lifelong learning practice. To accomplish these, the state creates a blueprint thatmustmeet the various long-termneeds of individuals, in addition to reconciling the demands of a variety of interest groups. The state regards lifelong learning as a matter of public responsibility. Thus, it tries to create the required structural preconditions, promote well-designed arrangements between organizations and entities, and ensure policy coordination and coherence in lifelong learning (Rubenson, 2006). The state-led approach addresses equity issues for young, old, and low-skilled adults who are at risk of being routinely excluded from society. Such policies reduce social inequality and promote personal development for all. Additionally, a strong link between lifelong learning and labor market policies can be built on this model. The state has strong power to use labor markets and policies to promote human capital through lifelong learning. The state-led policies also have some disadvantages, including ‘‘a slow pace of change, less diversity and responsiveness to particular needs, misjudged plans, and bureaucratic inefficiency’’ (OECD, 1996, recited from Green, 2000: 39).

Another possible model is based on social partnership. This model emphasizes not only individual responsibility, but also the building of partnerships with multiple agencies involving diverse stakeholders. This implies a strengthened public–private cooperation.However, state agencies’ participation and coordination are not always required in this model (Schuetze and Casey, 2006). Regardless of the state’s participation, agreements or cooperation among social partners can have an impact on lifelong learning and training policies (OECD, 2003). In the 1970s, civil society developed lifelong learning systems for the purpose of reducing educational gaps in society. At that time, the volunteer sector, including nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), played an important role in promoting lifelong learning (Rubenson, 2006). As there is no doubt that civil society cannot exist alone, social partnerships with other institutions are emphasized in policy development (OECD, 2003).

The three models can illustrate the different lifelong learning policies with distinctive features. Nevertheless, it must be taken into consideration that the three models have common characteristics, which can be seen in the state-led model to some degree. The distinguishing characteristics and some policy examples of each model are summarized in Table 1.

More recently, Schuetze and Casey (2006: 282–283) introduced four different lifelong learning policy models: (1) an emancipatory or social justice model, which put an emphasis on equality of learning opportunity (lifelong learning for all); (2) a cultural model focusing on each individual’s life; (3) an open society model in which lifelong learning is seen as an appropriate learning system (lifelong learning for all who want, and are able, to participate); and (4) a human capital model, which implies continuous work-related training and skills development for a qualified workforce (lifelong learning for employment). There exist many commonalities between Schuetze and Casey’s models and those of Green. However, Schuetze and Casey classify policies according to their aims for what the policy is, while Green distinguishes the approaches according to who has the power and who is the main actor with a more holistic viewpoint toward the policy.

Policy Applications of the Three Lifelong Learning Models

This section provides some policy examples with reference to Green’s three models from developed countries well known for their lifelong learning strategies.

The State-Led Model

The state-led model has many advantages insofar as it provides a certain degree of consistency and coherence in conducting policy, securing qualifications, and ensuring more equitable opportunities for individuals. Those advantages are found in the countries’ initiatives that are introduced below. They vary in the details, but each shares the goal of lifelong learning for all.

Sharing financial responsibility in Japan: Kameoka Lifelong Learning Foundation

In Japan, the central and local governments have legislated strong initiatives to support lifelong learning. For a long time, governmental agencies have promoted lifelong learning by installing facilities and equipment, and by subsidizing learning events. The main responsibility for administrative support of lifelong learning tends to fall to the municipalities. Since the financial base of the municipalities is not sufficient, the National Council on Lifelong Learning proposed establishing foundations to obtain private funds at the level of the local government (Shiraishi, 1998). With this purpose, there are some foundations such as the Kameoka Lifelong Learning Foundation (KLLF).

In 1990, Kameoka City established the KLLF, giving it initial funding. This foundation operates with financial support from the municipality and the management of its initial funds. Although Kameoka City provides financial support, the KLLF is an independent institution beyond the purview of the municipal and other governmental bodies (Shiraishi, 1998). The organization is autonomous in how it conducts the bulk of events related to lifelong learning for citizens, thus enabling it to more easily obtain financial support from other sectors.

In the case of Japan, the government played a key role in developing and funding the foundation at the initial stage, preparing the foundation to develop as an independent organization later by widening its base of financial support from private donors. This project was a part of the government’s long-term plan to establish private funding for lifelong learning enterprises at the local level.

Ensuring equity for immigrants in Finland

To ensure equity for immigrants, the Finnish government has implemented many policy initiatives over the past years. As more countries join the European Union, Finland is expected to have more immigrants, and thus shares the necessity of having sound policies that seek to integrate its newcomers. In this context, the Finnish government has launched a variety of programs available to immigrants. For adult immigrants who seek employment, special programs such as language and vocational ones are provided.

Since May 1999, many special programs, for example a 6-month preparatory vocational training program, have been offered for low-skilled immigrants. The program incorporates Finnish language and customs; guidance and some courses in a student’s native language; remedial instruction if necessary; support groups of students; tutors; and a personal study plan (OECD, 2005a). This effort aims to reduce unemployment among immigrants by promoting their equality within Finnish society.

The Finnish immigrant policy does have some challenges to overcome, such as inconsistencies in policy implementation, and a lack of programs specifically for low-skilled immigrants. To develop more effective policies for immigrants, the Finnish government has set out a 5-year plan for 2003–08 (Ministry of Education, 2004). The Finnish government puts much effort into pursuing equity and consistency in lifelong learning policy for immigrants. Consequently, the case of Finland focused more on immigrants as an underprivileged group. The Finnish government program examined tries to provide equity and equitable opportunities for individuals, especially for those who could be otherwise excluded from the benefits of lifelong learning.

Continuing vocational education and training in France: Social partnership regulation

France’s lifelong education on continuing vocational education and training (CVT) has been in constant change and expansion for almost 40 years, thanks to the 1971 law and subsequent reforms characterized by a state-led system of social partnership regulation. This law insisted on the roles and responsibilities of the various partners in training by instituting a collective financing obligation between social partners (Green, 2000). This regulation took into consideration the promotion of equitable distribution of training costs and achieving the skills needed between social partners. In short, the creation of a huge training market could be achieved under the 1971 law in France (Colardyn, 2004).

For enterprises, the financial contribution was differed from the amount of payroll based on the number of employees. It was a very useful way to obtain equitable sharing of training costs from different enterprises. Such an equitable cost distribution encouraged greater investment in training by employers. At the same time, the state invested much effort on deciding training priorities by forming clubs of providers as well (Green, 2000). Government subsidy for training played a crucial role to overcome market failure in training. As a result, strong links were established between private and public sectors led by the regulation and public authorities.

Under the 1971 law, training became a legal right for all employees, and the responsibility for training was shared by enterprises beyond the government. In so doing, the government had better chance to look at individuals such as the young, women, and older workers. Clearly, many individuals have accessed training; a large training market has been created; and the training supply has improved (Colardyn, 2004). For instance, in the year 2000, there were nearly 42 000 training bodies, as compared to only 25 000 in 1990. The number of trainees has practically doubled in these 10 years, surpassing 12 million in 2000. Employer investment in training continues to increase (Green, 2000) and enterprises have been the major contributors since 1999. In spite of many positive results, several major critical issues can be highlighted (Colardyn, 2004): people who have had higher levels of initial education are more likely to participate in CVT; CVT chances have hardly translated into a higher level of educational attainment such as a diploma.

The Market-Led Model

There is no doubt that lifelong learning is a huge enterprise beyond a government’s capacities. In addition, lifelong learning in most countries is more likely to be decentralized. Furthermore, the change of perspective from lifelong education to lifelong learning entails shifting the responsibilities for learning from the providers to the learners. This shift emphasizes the individual’s role in the process of learning and deemphasizes the governmental dimension (Schuetze and Casey, 2006). Consequently, the role of employers and individuals in decision making and financing is strongly addressed. The responsibility of individuals for their own learning is emphasized to a greater degree as well. In particular, companies play a more direct and active role in promoting employees’ learning in order to obtain greater global competitiveness. Workplaces that support and promote lifelong learning for employees function as good examples of the market-led approach.

Investment on employee training by Fraport AG in Germany: Qualification card

Fraport AGoperates Germany’s largest commercial airport with 13 000 employees. It regards personnel development as an important factor in corporate success, and has adopted a variety of strategies relating to education and training. FraportAGintroduced a neweducational approach in 2000. It developed the Fraport Qualification Card (Q-Card). The Q-Card is a bonus card that the corporation loads with a virtual credit of 600 euros each year. With this card, employees can take courses provided by Fraport College and Fraport Academy. The courses at Fraport AG are not directly required for the performance of their current jobs.

Employees in Fraport AG must invest their flexitime credits from their working time accounts. The program encompasses information technology, media skills, work techniques, and business administration. Approximately 85 different training courses were offered in the first half of 2002 (Wilfried, 2003). As a cost- and time-sharing instrument for lifelong learning, the Q-Card program earned Fraport one of the initiative awards for training and further education given by the Otto Wolff Foundation (Wilfried, 2003). Responding to the demands of employees and the employer, Fraport AG created a motivational system to promote employee learning and provided a wide range of programs to meet the learning needs of employees.

The Credit Bank System in South Korea: Nonformal educational institutions

The South Korean government initiated the Credit Bank System (CBS) in 1998. This essentially allows individuals to accumulate credits from diverse institutions including colleges, universities, nonformal educational institutions, and cyber open universities. An adult student can obtain an associate or bachelor degree depending on the amount of the necessary CBS-approved credits (OECD, 2005b).

The CBS can be regarded as a precondition to realize a society of lifelong learning and open education. It has some unique features that can be discussed in the stateled model. For instance, this system has been run on a strong statutory foundation. The CBS contributes to guarantee educational equity, particularly for the undereducated. The Korean government, together with the National Center for Lifelong Education, screens the curriculum provided by all nonformal educational institutions twice a year and earned credits and/or learning experiences and activities of individuals. These efforts are to maintain and control the quality of the CBS.

On the other hand, the CBS has qualities of the market- led model as well. The CBS policies are more likely to focus on giving individuals more choices from different institutions and diverse learning programs. All types of educational institutions under the CBS need to study whether they should supply market-driven educational programs in order to meet adult learners’ demands. Educational institutions that have marketing capability need to promote their credit courses by creating a variety of programs that are required to be endorsed by the government. The CBS should be utilized to sharpen adult learners’ competency and employability regardless of their employment status as a way of enhancing the quality of their lives. Consequently, some features, including regulation, equity, and accessibility, which are addressed in the state-led model, are shown in CBS. However, this system still runs on the strong foundation of the marketled model. Compared with the state-led model, this case is more responsive to individual needs and tends to have more flexibility in the modes of provision.

The Social-Partnership-Led model

As most stakeholders in lifelong learning exist outside of governmental agencies, the coordination between various entities involved in policy development and implementation is crucial for overall success (OECD, 2004). However, such coordination does not fall exclusively into the domain of governmental agencies. Nevertheless, there is general agreement that using the potential of existing cooperative mechanisms is a way to build partnerships (Dace, 2003). In current lifelong learning policy and practice, cooperation among various partners has become a prominent international feature. Both cases described below created frameworks for lifelong learning in terms of encouraging cooperation among stakeholders and emphasizing the responsibilities of different partners. In this framework, various stakeholders participated in the whole process of policy development, implementation, and assessment.

Vocational education and training in Germany: The dual system

With the advent of a knowledge-based economy, Germany has recognized the importance of lifelong learning in order to pursue social cohesiveness. In particular, different types of social partnerships have been utilized to share the responsibility for lifelong learning. Among them, the dual system has been recognized as a representative example of vocational training on the social-partnership-led model. The system is called dual because vocational training takes place both in the company and in the vocational school.

Under the Vocational Training Act of 1969, the federal state sets the training regulations by which the roles, rights, and responsibilities of the different partners are determined. Representatives of employers, employees, and educators together with federal and regional state officials are positively involved in an elaborate system of social partnerships (Green, 2000). The system is financed principally by employers, a feature that distinguishes the German system from the Australian and other European models that rely heavily on government funding as well as on wage subsidies. Although the operation of vocational training schools is regulated by the state, a substantial involvement on the part of employers through very active chambers of commerce is taken into consideration as the essential feature of the social-partnership-led model (NCVER, 2001).

The German dual system of vocational training is renowned as an example of social partnership. Within such a system, companies and their social partners play a prominent role as innovators. This system emphasizes collaboration among various partners and suggests co-financing between them. As the state’s full financial responsibility in lifelong learning is perceived to be limited, co-financing among stakeholders should be strongly considered. Meanwhile, the dual system itself does exhibit weaknesses, such as inefficiency, because it may take much time to negotiate among the key social partners through a very complex process (NCVER, 2001). To keep the dual system effective and efficient, the government must continue to become more flexible in how it deals with its partners.

Embracing older workers in Australia: The new apprenticeship program

The Vocational Education and Training (VET) system in Australia was created to boost the country’s economy, increase employability, and develop a more skilled workforce. Under the direction of the VET, the apprenticeship program has been newly updated to combine training and employment so that people entering an occupation can receive appropriate instruction in the specific skills needed on the job (OECD, 2002). Compared to the previous apprenticeship program, the new apprenticeship program focuses more on supporting and recruiting older workers, recognizing that it is crucial to have skilled workers in the labor market and that older people still remain as key players.

The new apprenticeship program was introduced in 1998, following many reforms of the traditional apprenticeship system. The Australian government created the new apprenticeship center to promote the new program and to provide support services with employers. The government developed specific programs to ensure a more effective implementation of the new apprenticeship. These include the new apprenticeships incentives program to develop a more skilled Australian workforce and the new apprentice support services, a national network that provides support for employers and individuals across the nation. There has been a huge increase in the number of workers in the new apprenticeship program since it was introduced, from 135 000 in 1995 (OECD, 2002) to 367 100 at the end of 2003 (NCVER, 2003).

Through the new apprenticeship program, the Australian government tries to embrace not only the need of young people to obtain skills, but also the need of older workers to be given opportunities to upgrade their skills. Moreover, the new apprenticeship program makes cooperation among various partners possible so that these partners can meet the demands of individuals and employers. On the other hand, some limitations exist, such as the lack of sufficient training plans and inadequate arrangements for monitoring the quality of training in the new apprenticeship program (NCVER, 2001).


In this article, several examples categorized according to a threefold system of lifelong learning policy models were examined. The KLLF in Japan, immigrant policy in Finland, and CVE in France were introduced and explored as examples of the state-led approach. The examples of the market-led approach included Fraport AGin Germany and the CBS in Korea. Germany’s dual system and Australia’s new apprenticeship program served as examples of the social-partner-led model. Each country examined has very different lifelong learning policies in its own unique context. In addition, every country was found to have taken various initiatives at different levels including individual, enterprise, and local and central government. Despite the diversity evident in the above examples, it is interesting to note that some clear messages regarding current and future lifelong learning policies can be discussed.

First, an economically oriented mindset has penetrated the policies of almost every country.With the advent of the knowledge-based economy, all countries seemto agree that a shortage of workers with high-level skills or a lack of adequate learning systems puts national economic competitiveness at risk. Lifelong learning systems tend to be a credible way to achieve national prosperity. In looking at the examples illustrating each model, it is found they are strongly associated with basic and upgraded skill-development strategies for individuals. At the same time, policy reports related to lifelong learning are also more likely to express concern for social inclusion, democracy, social equity, quality of life, and personal well-being (Martin, 2000).

Second, cooperation among many stakeholders seems to be an inevitable feature in terms of developing and implementing lifelong learning policies. State-led initiatives are basically the strongest and most effective way toward pursuing lifelong learning opportunities for all. While it provides relatively less accessibility of learning opportunities to individuals than the state-led approach, the market-led approach is also necessary. However, neither state-led nor market-led approaches can fully succeed without collaboration with other partners. In this sense, it is safe to say that countries try to involve relevant stakeholders and boost social partnerships between them. All the exemplary initiatives introduced show that many different parties are more likely to be involved and cooperate for the purpose of building better lifelong learning systems, regardless of the models they belong to.

The third point is related to government intervention. Today’s governments face major challenges in extending lifelong learning. The government, even in the socialpartner- led model, is found to play a vital role, and its intervention is unavoidable in the field of lifelong learning. Government intervention in most cases involves providing financial support, operating a qualifications system, or organizing networks for the various partners. As seen in the KLLF of Japan, municipal funding was an absolute necessity at the initial stage, allowing it to become an independent organization. The dual system in Germany and the new apprenticeship program in Australia are also evidence of the necessity of government involvement in funding and assessing evaluation. In the case of CBS, the Korean government plays a greater role in monitoring curriculum, earned credits, and learning experience of individuals to control the quality of the system.

D-B Kwon and C H O Daeyeon, Sookmyung Women’s University, Seoul, Republic of Korea

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