This report explores how forms of social inequality are framed in adult education discourses across Europe and Australia. To achieve this goal, it presents an analysis of the concept of vulnerability in lifelong learning policies, at European level and national level (Austria, Bulgaria, England, Estonia, Flanders, Italy, Scotland, Slovakia, Spain and Australia).
Methods of analysis include corpus-based critical discourses analysis of 68 European lifelong learning documents (1992-2018), interviews with policy makers (6), analysis of funding schemes (European Social Fund) and analysis of vulnerable groups in the lifelong learning policies of the nine countries forming part of ENLIVEN, including Australia. Taking a corpus-based approach, European documents has been analysed not only as whole but also with regard to a synchronic variation. Results show that the use of terminology related to vulnerability is not used uniformly throughout the period analysed. It is detected during the first period (1992-1999), documents refer to the most vulnerable groups as marginal or excluded. From the year 2000 the main vulnerability indicator seems to be the low labour capacities. The implicit motives suggested in relation to “vulnerable groups” appear to be educational attainment (low qualified, early schools leavers, migrant background and age), to which are added structural motives related to their origin (people from disadvantaged social strata, poverty niches or disadvantaged areas) or to global factors (lack of employment, development of the learning society). Faced with this situation, the policies analysed propose, above all, to develop the basic skills and new competences needed to enter the world of work.
With regards to national policies, across all the countries studied within the EU as well as Australia, unemployment, alongside low levels of skills, were the most prevalent dimensions of vulnerability targeted by policy measures. By understanding the concept of vulnerability solely in relation to the labour market, young vulnerable young people are framed as lacking certain attributes – those that would enable them to be incorporated into the world of paid employment. Those attributes they do possess – however valuable to themselves personally, or to society – go unrecognized. In this context, the proposal that lifelong learning policies should focus on individual needs without addressing structural measures seems insufficient. Moreover, this situation constrains the rationale of adult education, forgetting its critical and creative dimension that seeks a deep analysis of reality in order to transform it.