|4.3 By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university
Target 4.3 covers a very wide range of education opportunities. For monitoring progress, two issues stand out. First, we must begin collecting information on adults participating in education programmes. Second, we need a common understanding of what makes access to technical, vocational, tertiary and adult education affordable.
Target 4.3 has expanded the scope of the international education agenda by including tertiary education. However, its defining feature is perhaps less the target and more the global indicator for the target, which covers adult education. The global indicator calls for us to measure the percentage of youth and adults participating in formal or non-formal education or training in the previous 12 months. This goes well beyond just technical, vocational and tertiary education, and expands the scope of the international agenda even further.
Going beyond technical, vocational and tertiary – to also capture adult education
The global indicator, by including adult education, corrects an important mistake. SDG 4 refers to ‘lifelong learning opportunities for all’. Lifelong learning comprises all activities undertaken throughout life with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competencies from a personal, civic, social or employment-related perspective but is often understood to mainly refer to education opportunities for adults. Yet none of the targets refers to adult education, which is a major omission given how vital it is for ensuring we can work our way to a more sustainable way of living.
Some data is available on adult participation in formal primary and secondary education. It shows that, of all those enrolled, adults made up 4% in primary, 5% in lower secondary and 10% in upper secondary education according to the UIS. However, this only gives a partial picture.
The diversity of non-formal education opportunities for adults makes the task of monitoring total participation particularly difficult.
In Europe, major efforts have been made to develop relevant data collection tools ever since the European Union (EU) set an adult education participation rate target of 15% by 2020. The Adult Education Survey (AES) was carried out in 2007 and 2011 in 30 countries in Europe, with a third round scheduled for 2016. The 2011 round indicated that during the 12 months prior to the survey 6% of adults participated in formal education and 37% in non-formal education in the 28 EU countries. The non-formal education programmes referred to in this survey capture to a large extent, though not exclusively, workplace-based education and training related to vocational skills.
However, such a tool does not exist in other regions. And until it does, it will not be possible to monitor this global indicator – and much of the emphasis of this agenda on lifelong learning risks being lost. The international community needs to examine workable options to collect information on adult formal and non-formal education opportunities around the world. [Tweet]
Affordability – a missing piece in monitoring target 4.3
In reviewing the monitoring challenges of the SDG agenda, the 2016 GEM Report looked not only at the indicators that have been proposed but also those that have not. Target 4.3 refers to affordable education. However, there is no mention of affordability in the indicators being put forward, even though this holds the key for ensuring “equal access”.
There is no doubt that defining and measuring affordability is difficult, because what is affordable depends on the relationship between income and costs, which is, of course, always variable.
On the income side of the equation, for instance, it is not only current income that matters but also the forgone income and the future income, neither of which is straightforward to estimate.
Collating information on direct costs is not straightforward either. For example, in the case of tertiary education, tuition, registration and examination fees often differ by subject area and by institution, especially between public and private.
Detailed national data on costs are easier to find in countries where there is a government policy to make tertiary education participation more affordable. For example, governments and tertiary education institutions may provide grants, repayable loans and discounted accommodation (halls of residence), food (canteens) or transport (travel cards).
It is therefore understandable that a single indicator may be unable to assess affordability. One way forward proposed by our Report is to compare the financial burden on households for education access with the financial assistance they are offered by governments. For example, across 26 countries in Europe, as this figure shows, households contributed an average of 15% of total expenditure for tertiary education institutions in 2011 while aid to students made up 18% of public tertiary education expenditure.
Behind the averages, there is substantial variation between countries. In Norway, there are almost no fees and aid was used to compensate for differences in students’ ability to afford living costs during their studies. In Cyprus and the United Kingdom, aid was used to offset the impact of high tertiary education fees.
While the proposed indicator framework entirely ignores affordability, progress towards this target in the next 15 years requires us to address it. As this figure shows, existing information can help us grapple with the issue. The international community should define the components of affordability of technical, vocational, tertiary and adult education as a first step so that the relevant data can be collected. There is another step then needed if we are to fully understand whether or not these policies are targeting the poorest or not.