Chapter 5: Adult Learning in Australia: Predictors and Outcomes
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Adult learning is often seen as an important component of promoting an adaptable and flexible workforce by enabling potential workers to stay in the labor market or improve their position. As outlined in the introductory chapter, globalization, demographic aging, and rapidly changing technology have increased the need for individuals to take part in adult learning in order to maintain or increase their human capital and remain competitive in the labor market. While it is often argued that adult learning can be used by policymakers and individuals to compensate for earlier educational disadvantages, some research has found that educational disadvantages accumulate over the life course since the most advantaged individuals are the most likely to take part in adult learning (Pallas 2004; Dieckhoff, Jungblut and O’Connell 2007). Determining not only who participates in adult learning, but also whether this participation pays off in terms of employment outcomes, is important for understanding the role that adult learning plays in the ability of modern societies to keep the skill levels of their labor forces up-to-date. Australia is especially well-situated to be able to examine this association since a substantial proportion of the population completed additional formal education qualifications after spending some time in the labor force. Indeed, the OECD finds that Australia has one of the highest rates of participation in adult education among all OECD member countries (OECD 2010). Furthermore, Australia’s institutional framework provides a unique context in which adults are able to return to education due to a flexible higher-education sector, a living allowance provided by the welfare state, and an interest-free income-contingent student loans scheme that pays for educational fees.

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