Lifelong learning in the EU: changing conceptualisations, actors, and policies

Nina Volles

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52 Citations (SciVal)


This paper explores the changing conceptualisations, actors, and policies of lifelong learning (LLL) in the European Union (EU) from the time the topic first emerged and was promoted by international organisations in the 1960s. The author uses Kingdon's Multiple Streams Framework to analyse how the LLL discourse became an important part of the EU agenda from the mid-1990s onwards, ultimately resulting in numerous policy changes intended to address a wide range of economic and societal issues. The analysis is based on a critical reading of policy documents from the EU, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and a number of other agenda-setting bodies. The results indicate that the LLL discourse has evolved from one of lifelong education intertwined with humanistic ideals promoted by UNESCO (and partly OECD), to the EU's all-encompassing neo-liberal conception of lifelong learning which has been conceived as a cure for a wide range of maladies, ranging from high unemployment, to low innovation rates and the lack of entrepreneurship.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-363
JournalStudies in Higher Education
Issue number2
Early online date14 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016


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