The Swedish Agency for Public Management

Adult education. An evaluation from the perspective of state subsidies. Interim Report (2016:10)

Statskontoret (the Agency for Public Management) has been given a commission by the government to make an overall evaluation of adult education or folkbildning (The Swedish term folkbildning is used in this text and it refers to the folk high schools and the study associations). There are four objectives behind state subsidies for folkbildning, and it is with these in mind that we have carried out the following evaluation. This is an interim report - the final report will be submitted by 18 April 2018.

Folkbildning consists of activities in educational associations and Swedish folk high schools. In 2015 the Swedish National Council of Adult Education distributed SEK 3.4 billion in state subsidies to ten educational associations and 151 Swedish folk high schools. The Swedish National Council of Adult Education is a non-profit organisation­ that­­ represents the educational associations and Swedish folk high schools. SISU Sports Educators also allocated some of the state subsidies - SEK 164 million - to folkbildning in sport.

The four objectives of the government grant are to

  1. support activities which contribute to the strengthening and development of democracy
  2. help to increase the opportunity for a wider range of people to influence their lives and create a commitment to participate in the development of society
  3. contribute to minimising education gaps and raise the level of knowledge and education in society
  4. help to broaden interest in and increase participation in cultural life.

Hereinafter we will call these the democratisation objective, the influence and diversity objective, the knowledge and education objective and the cultural objective.  The objectives are ­broad and partially overlap each other.

Focus on general courses and study circles for new Swedes

Folkbildning is very extensive and wide-ranging. In this interim report we have chosen to focus on two areas which we have assessed as important: general courses at Swedish folk high schools and study circles that aim to help ­new Swedes to participate in society. The term "new Swedes" refers to people who have come to Sweden from other countries. Among other things, we have completed two case studies:

  • Focus groups with participants and teachers on general courses at Swedish folk high­ schools. The general course is aimed at those who have not completed compulsory school or upper secondary school.
  • Focus groups with study circle leaders aimed at new Swedes.

The democracy objective is about creating meeting places

Both the general course and study circles for new Swedes, adult education creates meeting places and trains participants in tolerance and openness. Participants are also taught how democracy works in Sweden.

Swedish folk high schools and education associations are different in some respects, such as their ideological profiles. We can see that the profiles have certain implications for the range of courses and subjects, as well as the composition­­ of participants.

The influence and diversity objective is clear in our case studies

Both the general course and study circles for new Swedes help participants to find more self-confidence and courage to take an active part in society.

There is a diversity among students in Swedish folk high schools and education associations in terms of foreign backgrounds and functional impairments. People born abroad are well represented among participants at education associations, but to varying degrees in the different education associations. They are under-represented ­ in­ Swedish folk high schools' special courses. The proportion of­ participants with neuropsychiatric functional impairments on general courses has increased, however. 

The general course clearly contributes to the knowledge and education objective

The general course gives participants a second (or even third) chance to complete upper secondary school. Study circles for new Swedes can give participants the qualifications they need for further studies, such as through learning Swedish, or being inspired by other participants to take further studies. The concept of education ­is sometimes associated with personal development, which is something our case studies show is helped by both general courses and study circles for new Swedes.

In recent years the number of students admitted to higher education with basic eligibility from Swedish folk high schools has increased. However, they still make up a very small proportion - 6% of the total number admitted.

Participants in study circles usually have a higher level of education than the population­ in general.

The cultural objective is not as noticeable in our case studies

The objective of encouraging a broader interest in culture and and increasing participation is not as clear in our case studies as the other objectives. General courses may include a cultural perspective, or participants are given the chance of going to concerts, theatre or films. In our case study, the study­ circles arranged for new Swedes were not primarily focused on cultural topics. On the other hand, study circle leaders said that the circles contribute to a better understanding of their own and others' cultures.

It is important for the cultural objective that folkbildning is available in places that do not have other cultural institutions. The availability of Swedish folk high schools varies in different parts of the country. Most participants are in the major urban areas, while the number of participants per capita­ is greatest in Norrbotten, Västerbotten and Blekinge. There are at least three education­ associations in all Swedish municipalities.

Weak ambition to make changes at the system level

From our case studies we can see that folkbildning contributes to the four objectives. However, we think that there are issues at the system level that are important to address. At this level there is a certain rigidity in folkbildning, which we feel involves a risk that folkbildning may not be able to respond to new needs in society in a sufficiently efficient way.

The rigidities we have observed mean that there is a need to analyse the extent to which folkbildning is included in the development of society and succeeds in reflecting today's society. Folkbildning emerged largely during the first half of the twentieth century. Most of the education associations have existed in some form since the middle of the last century. Some education associations are 100 years old or more. Many Swedish folk high schools also have a long history­. All in all, we see a risk that the activities which make up the different parts of folkbildning­ better reflect society as it was during the first half of the last century than the society that has emerged over the last few decades.

State subsidies are allocated in such a way that there is a battle of resources. If a study association or a Swedish folk high school is given a higher subsidy, another must necessarily receive less. This means that Swedish folk high schools and education associations guard their own interests when a new allocation system is to be decided. It also means that there is a reluctance to let new education associations start up. In summary­, the­ way in which the allocation of state subsidies for Swedish folk high schools and educational­ associations takes place at present has resulted in small driving forces for change.

Further evaluation

In our further evaluation, we plan to analyse those parts of folkbildning­ that we have not taken up in this interim report. These are mainly special courses at Swedish folk high schools and cultural programmes at both Swedish folk high schools­ ­and study associations. We will look at the breadth of ­activities in education associations. Through the use of a register study, we also plan to follow up participants on general courses with regard to employment, income and their paths to higher education. We also intend to put forward proposals for indicators to monitor folkbildning over time.