Pepka Boyadjieva and Petya Ilieva-Trichkova, members of the JustEdu project’s team presented 2 papers at the ESREA Conference “New seeds for a world to come. Policies, practices and lives in adult education and learning”, 29th September – 2nd October 2022, Milan, Italy.

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The conference was carried out in person with nearly 260 participants from all over the world. The ESREA conference raised the following questions: Are there any seeds for transformative resilience? What is the contribution of adult education and learning, and the role of research in it?

Paper 1:
Subjective well-being and adult education policy: how to go beyond the human capital perspective


There is a longstanding trend in policy making that has tended to discuss adult education as a mere instrument of individuals’ employability and economic benefits at both individual and societal levels. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, different trends seem to have emerged. Even though some authors warn that today’s crisis will turn lifelong learning into a tool of biopolitical exploitation (Beighton 2021).

Against this uncertain background, the paper aims to: (1) defend the need to go beyond the human capital approach to adult education policy (APE) by enriching it with a humanistic perspective based on the capabilities approach (Sen, Nussbaum) and recognition theory (Honneth, Fraser); (2) adopt an understanding of individual subjective well-being which is not reduced to happiness and life satisfaction, but include dimensions of individual subjectivity, such as autonomy, sense of meaning, recognition, engagement, attachment to the environment (Boyadjieva & Ilieva-Trichkova, under review); (3) explore the relationship between AEP and individual subjective well-being; (4) reveal how AEP moderate the association between individuals’ level of education and their employment status, on the one hand, and subjective well-being, on the other.

The paper identifies accessibility, availability and affordability of adult education as relevant dimensions of APE. These dimensions are tested empirically using secondary data analysis of micro-level data from the European Social Survey (2012). Descriptive statistics and multilevel regression modelling on survey data will be analysed together with original indexes to capture the three dimensions of policies using macro-level data from the Adult Education Survey and the Labour Force Survey. Preliminary results show higher individual subjective well-being in countries where AEP are oriented towards better accessibility, availability and affordability. Moreover, differences in individual subjective well-being between adults with lower and higher education and in paid or not in paid jobs are dependent on the level of accessibility, availability and affordability of APE.

Paper 2:
‘I want not to be cheated with the bills’: The empowerment role of adult education on individual agency


There has recently been growing research interest in going beyond the instrumental and economised understanding of adult and lifelong education and learning and focusing on its empowerment potential (Baily, 2011; Fleming & Finnegan, 2014; Fleming, 2016; Tett, 2018). Attempts have also been made to provide a more comprehensive view of the mission and roles adult education serves by revealing its substantial transformative power at individual and societal levels (Boyadjieva & Ilieva-Trichkova, 2021). Policy documents have been published which acknowledge the complexity of adult educational goals and the contributions made to individual and societal development, and also explicitly emphasise the emancipatory role which lifelong learning can play. Thus, according to UNESCO’s Recommendation on Adult Learning and Education of 2015 (UNESCO, 2016), the objectives of adult learning and education are: ‘to equip people with the necessary capabilities to exercise and realise their rights and take control of their destinies… to develop the capacity of individuals to think critically and to act with autonomy and a sense of responsibility’, and to reinforce their capacity not only to adapt and deal with but also to ‘shape the developments taking place in the economy and the world of work’ (art. 8 and 9). However, more research is needed in order to better conceptualise and empirically demonstrate the complexity of the empowerment potential and implementation of adult education in different socio-cultural contexts.

This paper develops a theoretical framework for conceptualising adult education’s role in individual empowerment using a capability approach perspective (Sen, 1999; Nussbaum, 2000). It also provides empirical evidence on how adult education can contribute to individuals’ empowerment. Adult education is both a sphere of, and a factor for, empowerment. Empowerment through adult education is embedded in institutional structures and socio-cultural contexts, and has both intrinsic and instrumental value; it is neither linear nor unproblematic. Adult education’s empowerment role is revealed in expanded agency; this enables individuals and social groups to gain power over their environment. Using quantitative and qualitative data, the paper shows that participation in non-formal adult education can empower individuals, increasing their self-confidence, capacity to find employment, and to control their daily lives.