Fewer young people learning after 17, survey suggests

Laptop The digital divide affects learning, the report's authors say

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Fewer young people are still learning after the age of 17 in the UK, a survey suggests.

A report by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace) says there has been a seven percentage point drop in the number of 17 to 24-year-olds taking part in learning compared with last year.

The survey involved 5,000 people.

The government has cast doubt on its findings, saying other data suggests no change among 16 to 24 year-olds.

The Niace survey found about one in five adults is currently involved in some type of learning.

Learning here is defined as anything from full or part-time study to evening classes or "practising, studying or reading about something".

Young people are more likely to be studying than older generations. Among the 17 to 19-year-olds asked, 79% said they were in learning.

But when a wider age-range is included - 17 to 24-year-olds - 70% said they were involved in some type of learning, down from 77% last year.

Most other age groups showed a small increase in participation, except among those aged from 55 to 64, where there was a fall from 29% to 26%.

Participation generally declines with age, so that among 65 to 74-year-olds, 19% say they are learning, while 10% of over-75s say they are.

The biggest divide, the authors say, is between those who left school at the earliest opportunity and those who stayed on, even for a short time.

Digital divide

The survey also shows a six percentage point drop in learning among unemployed people and suggests that the majority of people continue their learning for work-related reasons.

It also shows the influence of what is known as the "digital divide" - the gap between those with regular access to the internet and those without it.

Nearly two-thirds of adults without internet access say they have not taken part in learning since leaving full-time education.

Niace chief executive David Hughes said that the survey showed an encouraging rise in the number of people in part-time work who are taking part in education.

But he added: "What is particularly worrying is the fall in the number of young people who are taking part in, or even considering, learning.

"If these young people can't see the positive impact learning can have on their lives then it suggests a 'creeping hopelessness' amongst them which could have lifetime consequences on their confidence, self-esteem and life chances."

Bigger survey

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills says it uses the Labour Force Survey to measure the numbers in formal training.

A spokesman said: "This is a much larger survey and shows there has been no change to 16 to 24 year-olds and for the 16 to 18 age group there has been a slight increase in participation.

"However, the Coalition is committed to reduce the number of young people who are not in education, employment and training (Neet).

"Our Youth Contract provides targeted support for 16 to 24-year-olds who are Neet to help them get back into the workforce with the best possible skills and we are introducing a new traineeship programme later this year."

The report was published to mark Adult Learners' Week, which begins tomorrow. A total of 5,253 adults aged 17 and older in the UK were asked if they still took part in education. The survey was carried out face-to-face between 13 February and 3 March 2013.

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