Lifelong learning – a cliché or the new concept for fuelling achievement for the sustainable development goals?

Three measures to ensure that nobody exceeds their ‘best by’ date

In her New Year’s speech, Prime Minister Erna Solberg stated, ‘no one in the Norwegian labour market will exceed their “best by” date’. At the national meeting for the Conservative Party just recently, she followed up by proposing greater facilitation of courses for people who work, and a stronger focus on vocational subjects and vocational education. We welcome what we perceive as a cross-policy agreement to invest more in postgraduate education. We will do our best to live up to the expectations, but we do believe that politicians are thinking too small.

At the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), we have an ambition to double the extent of postgraduate and further education in the full breadth of our business in the coming three years. We are doing this, because we can see that work life will be in need of an increase in flexible and updated competence. The importance of learning throughout your life is increasing, due to the pace of technological changes being faster than ever. It is tempting to resort to the saying ‘Anyone who considers themselves finished with education, is not educated, but finished’.

Education and the development of knowledge has made Norway one of the best countries to live in. Through the 1900s, the population gained an increasingly higher level of education. In parallel, the universities grew from being elitist institutions for the few, to becoming available to many. Today, approximately one-third of all Norwegians have higher education. We have developed a well-founded culture for education and

Why is this well-founded education culture broken when it comes to continuing education? The arrows are pointing down. From 2008 to 2017, the number of people who took part in formal further education (which provides credits) fell from 11 to 8%, according to statistics from the Norwegian Committee on Skill Needs. This should set the alarm bells ringing.

Work life is screaming for replenishment of new skills. Politicians are saying that something must happen now and the employees are motivated. Then why are fewer than before committing to lifelong learning?

We believe that the explanation is related to conditions and flexibility not being good enough. An improvement in the facilitation for is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough.

Three gears are mainly holding the machinery that keeps continuing education in motion. They are connected, but seem to be lacking grease. Greasing just one of the wheels to increase the extent is unfortunately not enough. We would like to point out three areas where changes should be implemented;

  • First, the frame conditions for work life must change; so that it pays to invest in competence. This applies to both the public and private sector. To introduce ‘CompetenceFUNN’ – a tax deduction scheme for companies’ investments in competence – is one of several measures likely to have a good effect.
  • Secondly, employees need clear incentives. It is in NTNU’s opinion that financial means should be considered, among others.
  • Thirdly, the university sector must be better placed to meet the needs. If we are to be able to double the extent of continuing and further education, we depend on clear financial arrangements. The Ministry of Education and Research’s development agreement with us and the other institutions must be adjusted for us to have a buffer reducing the risk of building up flexible offers fast, and following the needs and business conditions.

We must acknowledge that, today, we have a system that leads to fewer adults than before going back to school (physically or digitally). Our nation’s future is depending on that we manage to turn this trend for continuing and further education.

We urge Iselin Nybø, Torbjørn Røe Isaksen and the rest of the government to make the necessary political changes, together with the universities and work life. NTNU are ready to contribute.

N.B: If you have not yet registered interest for the ICDE Lillehammer Lifelong Learning Summit 2019 in Lillehammer, February 11. – 13. 2019, do so today! 

The Summit is hosted by Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences

By Rector Gunnar Bovim and Pro-rector for Education, Anne Borg, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)

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