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three - Neoliberal and inclusive themes in European lifelong learning policy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 September 2022

Elisabet Weedon
Affiliation:
University of Edinburgh
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Summary

Introduction

When lifelong learning emerged as a key theme of educational policy in the 1990s, international organisations played a decisive role. Some, particularly the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), had a ‘track record’: in the 1970s UNESCO had enthused about ‘lifelong education’ (Faure et al, 1972), the OECD about ‘recurrent education’ (OECD 1973). In contrast, the European Union had no such pedigree. Although the Council of Europe had advocated ‘permanent education’ as early as 1966 (Council of Europe, 1970), the EU itself had been silent. Yet, as Field (2006) suggests, in the 1990s the EU's role was decisive.

Since then, lifelong learning has developed from a policy concept popular among international organisations into a central feature in educational, welfare and labour market policies – and a key element in private and ‘third’ sector activity – across the ‘developed’ world. This chapter is concerned with the development and nature of the EU's thinking on lifelong learning, with the part this plays in shaping public policy within member states, and with how the EU interacts with other ‘actors’ in relation to lifelong learning.

The core of the chapter is an historical account of the evolution of the EU's thinking and practice on lifelong learning. We pursue this chiefly through the continuing tension between two policy themes: education (and training and learning) for productivity, efficiency and competitiveness on the one hand, and education for broader personal development and ‘social inclusion’ on the other. However, we begin by outlining three areas of debate within the academic literature. The historical account will, we believe, serve to illuminate these debates.

Areas of debate

Economic and social aims

In a much-cited phrase, Boshier described lifelong learning as ‘human resource development in drag’ (1998, p 4). His point was the contrast between the broad, humanistic approach of the Faure Report and the vocational character of the language used around lifelong learning in the 1990s. The broad thrust of his critique has been widely accepted. As Rizvi and Lingard argue, a ‘particular social imaginary of globalization, namely neoliberalism, has underpinned educational policy shifts around the world over the last two decades’ (2010, p 184).

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Lifelong Learning in Europe
Equity and Efficiency in the Balance
, pp. 39 - 62
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2012

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