Current trends in lifelong learning

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This report reviews the main results of the first lifelong learning survey in Bulgaria based on the 2003 ad hoc module of Eurostat’s labour force survey. The findings indicate significantly lower participation levels than in the other EU Member States. Some 80% of the Bulgarian population aged 15 years and over did not participate in any form of learning activity in the 12 month period prior to the survey interview. Older workers in particular and employers need to be encouraged to pursue a strategy of lifelong learning.




Policy and legislative background

Current Bulgarian policy in the field of education and training recognises that the active participation of the country in the common EU labour market depends on ensuring greater employability of workers. This is best achieved by the opportunities to participate in different learning activities throughout life. Structural indicators of the Bulgarian labour market include a low employment rate, a high rate of long-term unemployed persons and a sizeable proportion of workers with low education and qualification levels (BG0610049I). Therefore, the need for improvements in the field of education and training is clear. The policy focus in recent years is on translating the Lisbon Strategy into national policies.

To this end, the government of Bulgaria has undertaken a major reform of the education and vocational training system. The governing principle of the reforms is that quality of work and employment can be ensured only if employees are provided with opportunities to upgrade their skills and qualifications. In 2003, the government and the social partners adopted an Employment strategy 2004–2010. Since then, new strategies have been adopted in the field of education and training: the National strategy for continuing vocational education during the period 2005–2010 and the National strategy for adult education 2007–2013.

These strategies and the ‘Conception of lifelong learning’ adopted in 2004 are designed as a comprehensive tool for the development of a lifelong learning strategy in 2007. In 2006, the government and the social partners concluded a Pact on social and economic development until 2009 providing for proactive measures in the field of lifelong learning (BG0609029I). As part of the agreement, the employers committed themselves to provide continuous vocational training for at least 8% of their employees.

Survey methodology

In the second quarter of 2003, the National Statistical Institute (Национален Статистически Институт, NSI) carried out a survey on lifelong learning in the framework of its regular labour force survey (LFS). More than 33,000 persons aged 15 years and over were interviewed (see annex for further details). The survey was based on the Eurostat 2003 ad hoc module on lifelong learning, which formed part of the European LFS. The module consisted of a series of questions covering areas such as participation in different types of lifelong learning and time spent in learning, which has been adopted by the Eurostat Employment statistics working group. The survey was carried out in the 15 EU Member States at the time (EU15), as well as in the 12 future Member States – including Bulgaria – and in Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.

The survey uses the definition of lifelong learning adopted by the European Commission: ‘Lifelong learning includes all purposeful learning activities undertaken throughout life with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competences within a personal, civic, and social and/or employment-related perspective.’ An important distinction is made between three modes of learning: formal, informal and non-formal.

  • Formal education corresponds to education and training in the regular system of schools, universities and colleges.
  • Non-formal education and training include all types of taught learning activities which are not part of a formal education programme, such as courses, conferences, seminars or private lessons irrespective of the location – for example, on or off the company premises.
  • Informal learning corresponds to self-learning which is not part of either formal or non-formal education or training, using methods such as books, computers, learning centres or educational broadcasting.



Low level of participation in training and education

The survey data reveal that only 16% of the Bulgarian population aged 25–64 years participated in some form of training or education activity (Figure 1). This proportion is 2.5 times lower than in the EU25 – encompassing the EU15 and the 10 new Member States which joined the EU in May 2004 – where the participation rate of the same age category is 42%. Indeed, Bulgaria ranks among the bottom group in this regard, with only Hungary, at 12%, and Romania, at 10%, attaining lower levels.

Figure 1: Participation of 25–64 year population in lifelong learning (%)


Note: EU25 refers to the EU15 and the 10 new Member States which joined the EU in May 2004. Although the Eurostat survey was conducted in 2003, the results were published in 2005.

Source: Lifelong learning in Europe, Eurostat, Statistics in focus 8/2005; Lifelong learning 2003, NSI, 2004

Participation of 25–64 year population in lifelong learning (%)

The participation rate of the population aged 15 years and over is slightly higher: 19.9% or 1.3 million people participated in education or learning during the 12 months preceding the survey. In fact, almost half of those (47.1%) who have participated in education and training are in the 15–24 year age group. Some of the respondents participated in more than one form of learning. Overall, only 3% of respondents have participated in all forms of learning, 4% have availed of non-formal and informal learning, 6% have participated in non-formal learning only, 12% have availed of formal learning only and 28% have participated in formal and informal learning. The largest proportion, at 47%, participated only in informal learning.

The average time spent on learning was 84 hours in the 12 months before the interview was conducted. By group, the highest number of hours – corresponding to 106 hours – was spent by those living in rural areas, while men spent the lowest number of hours, at 77, on learning.

A breakdown by labour status reveals that the participation of employed people in at least one type of education is twice as high, at 22.2%, as that of the unemployed population, at 11.2%. Meanwhile, 19.2% of economically inactive persons have participated in some type of learning.

Informal learning most popular form

Table 1 shows the relatively high participation in informal learning in the 12 months preceding the survey interview. Some 16.4% of the population aged 15 years and over sought to increase their knowledge and skills using such methods as books, computers, learning centres or educational broadcasting. At the same time, 9.3% of the population participated in formal learning, while the participation rate in non-formal learning – including courses, workshops, and private education outside the official education system – was just 1.7%.

Table 1: Further training of population aged 15 years and over, by sex, place of residence and type of learning (%)
This table outlines the proportion of the population pursuing further training, by sex, by urban or rural area, and by formal, non-formal and informal types of learning.
  Total Type of learning*
Formal Non-formal Informal
Total 19.9 9.3 1.7 16.4
- Men 19.6 9.3 1.6 16.0
- Women 20.2 9.3 1.9 16.8
Urban areas 25.2 11.5 2.3 21.1
- Men 24.9 11.6 2.1 20.7
- Women 25.5 11.4 2.5 21.6
Rural areas 7.9 4.2 0.5 5.6
- Men 7.9 4.2 0.5 5.7
- Women 7.9 4.3 0.5 5.6

Note: *Respondents could select more than one type of learning.

Source: NSI, 2004

The higher rate of participation in informal learning could be explained by relatively easy access to learning facilities and tools, and the low financial expenses involved. The increasing use of computers in schools and universities following the government e-learning strategy and establishment of education portals has facilitated access to new learning opportunities.

The survey data reveal that labour status also significantly influences participation in informal learning. Of the total participating in informal education, 55.9% are employed and 40.1% are economically inactive, such as students or retired persons. The proportion of unemployed people engaging in informal learning is very low, at 4.1%.

High-skilled and educated persons more active in informal learning

A breakdown by educational attainment indicates that 38.3% of respondents with higher education have participated in informal learning activities, followed by those with upper secondary education, at 37.6% (Figure 2). However, some differences arise in methods used. For example, highly educated individuals prefer computer-based learning, which is used by 41% of this group, while people with upper secondary education prefer educational broadcasts, used by 38.9% of this category. Meanwhile, lower educated individuals prefer to visit libraries and learning centres, with 34.1% of this group availing of these facilities.

Figure 2: Participation in informal learning, by educational attainment (%)


Source: NSI, 2004

Participation in informal learning, by educational attainment (%)

The survey data show that the higher a person’s educational qualification is, the higher the participation rate in informal learning based on all methods (Table 2). The participation rates of professionals and technicians, at 34.3% and 21.6% respectively, are 10 to 15 times higher than the rate of non-skilled workers, at 2.1%.

Table 2: Participation in informal learning, by occupation and methods used
Professionals and technicians are by far the most likely occupational groups to participate in informal learning, across all methods – printed materials, computer-based learning, educational broadcasting or libraries and learning centres.
  Total Printed materials Computer-based learning Educational broadcasting Libraries and learning centres
Total including: 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Legislators, senior officials, managers 12.7 12.9 15.5 11.6 10.8
Professionals 34.3 36.3 40.1 36.5 53.5
Technicians, associated professionals 21.6 21.5 20.6 20.6 17.3
Administrative workers 7.5 6.4 8.3 6.3 5.2
Service workers, sales workers 6.8 6.4 5.7 7.3 5.9
Skilled agricultural workers 1.9 2.0 0.4 1.5 0.7
Craft and related trade workers 5.8 5.2 3.4 6.5 2.2
Plant and machine operators and assemblers 5.9 5.5 3.3 5.8 2.3
Non-skilled workers 2.1 1.9 0.8 2.1 0.6

Source: NSI, 2004

The difference between the high and low-qualified occupations is most visible in the use of computer-based learning, with the proportion of professionals’ participation, at 40.1%, being 50 times greater than that of non-skilled workers, at 0.8%. Computer-based learning and visiting libraries and learning centres are the primary two types of learning used by highly qualified workers, while printed materials and educational broadcasting seem to be most used by low- skilled workers. However, one third of highly qualified workers are also active in using the other methods of self-learning.

Factors influencing lifelong learning

Place of residence higher influence than gender

The proportion of women participating in any learning, at 20.2% – and in non-formal and informal learning – was slightly higher than that of men, at 19.6%. However, the place of residence had a significant impact on participation in further training: a quarter of the urban population participated in lifelong learning, compared with one in 13 of the rural population (see again Table 1). This disparity is found for all types of learning, especially for informal learning, where the participation rate of the rural population is nearly four times less than for urban dwellers. The ageing population and lack of educational institutions and infrastructure are factors explaining the low level of the rural population’s participation in informal and other types of learning activity.

It is interesting to note that, while the average EU25 rates show higher male participation in learning, in Bulgaria women’s participation is higher.

Large differences between age groups

A breakdown by age reveals a clear trend of decreasing participation in education and training as people grow older (Figure 3). Considerable differences arise between age groups, with participation rates ranging from 21.6% for the 25–34 year age group to just 6.5% for those aged 55–64 years. Low levels of participation among persons of active working age, that is, 35–44 and 45–54 years, are further cause for concern. Large differences also emerge compared with the average participation rates of different age groups in the EU25 – where participation in learning follows the same trend but with considerably higher rates: 50% of the 25–34 age group and 30% of the population aged 55–64 years take part in further training.

Figure 3: Participation of population aged 15 years and over in lifelong learning, by sex and age (%)


Source: NSI, 2004

Participation of population aged 15 years and over in lifelong learning, by sex and age (%)

As Figure 4 indicates, the 15–24 year age group is most active in all types of learning activities, with participation rates of 49.4% in formal education, 4.3% in non-formal learning and 38.3% in informal learning. While the differences in participation in formal education are easy to explain, the low levels of participation of older people in non-formal education, at 0.4% for those aged 55–64 years, and in informal education, at 6.4%, are of some concern and require pro-active policies for adult education. Motivating people – particularly from the 55–64 age group – to participate in learning activities and encouraging employers to provide them with training opportunities remains a significant and necessary challenge, taking into consideration the ageing demographic situation in Bulgaria and the need for convergence with the EU.

Figure 4: Further training of population aged 15–64 years, by age and type of learning (%)


Source: NSI, 2004

Further training of population aged 15–64 years, by age and type of learning (%)

Non-formal education

As already mentioned, only 1.7% of the population participated in non-formal education in 2003. However, the urban population displays a four-times higher participation rate, at 2.3%, than the rural population, at 0.5% (see again Table 1).

Higher educated employees more likely to engage in training

Although at very low levels, the participation rate in non-formal education tends to increase with the level of education. The proportion of highly educated persons engaged in further training, at 4.3%, is three times higher than for those with upper secondary education, at 1.4% (Table 3). The participation rate of people with primary and lower education is very low and falls into the margin of random error. The average trends in the EU25 are the same but at significantly higher levels: 31% of people with higher education participate in non-formal education at EU level.

Table 3: Participation of population aged 25–64 years in non-formal education, by sex and educational level
Participation rates in non-formal education are very low in Bulgaria, ranging from 4.3% for those with third-level education to just 0.2% for those with primary education; the national average is 1.7%. EU rates are much higher, with an average rate of 16.5%.
Completed education Bulgaria EU25
Total Men Women Total
Tertiary (ISCED 5,6) 4.3 4.0 4.5 31
Upper secondary (ISCED 3,4) 1.4 1.2 1.6 16
Primary and lower secondary (ISCED 2 and lower) 0.2 0.2 0.1 7
Total 1.7     16.5

Note: ISCED = International Standard Classification of Education.

Source: NSI, 2004; Eurostat, 2005

Differences between private and public sectors

A larger proportion of private sector employees, at 52.9%, participated in non-formal learning than was the case among public sector staff, where the proportion stood at 47.1%. Women in the private sector reached a participation rate of 55.1%, compared with 44.9% of women in the public sector. Most non-formal learning (51.7%) takes place only or mostly outside working hours, as shown in Table 4. This trend is the opposite of the practice for the EU25 average where most non-formal learning, at 62.8%, takes place during working hours. However, significant differences arise between the public and private sector, with the former providing more learning opportunities during working time.

Table 4: Participation of workers in non-formal education, by sector and time of training (%)
More than half of workers participate in further training only or mostly outside working time; however, this proportion declines to 44% in the public sector, where more workers are trained during working time.
  Total Only or mostly during working time Only or mostly outside working time Unknown
Total 100.0 37.9 51.7 10.4
Private sector 100.0 29.5 58.5 11.9
Public sector 100.0 47.3 44.0 8.8

Source: NSI, 2004

Reasons for participating in non-formal education

Participation in non-formal learning activities seems to be primarily motivated by professional reasons, as stated by 76.7% of employed workers and 81.4% of unemployed persons (Table 5). On the other hand, 64.8% of the economically inactive population are motivated to engage in non-formal learning mainly for personal reasons.

Table 5: Participation in non-formal education, by motivation and labour status (%)
More than three quarters of the total workforce take part in non-formal education for professional reasons. Meanwhile, almost two-thirds of economically inactive people participate for personal reasons. The average annual duration of non-formal training is 77 hours per person.
Reasons Total Labour force Inactive Average duration per person (hours)
    Total Employed Unemployed
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 77
Professional reasons 60.4 77.5 76.7 81.4 35.2 82
Personal or social reasons 39.6 22.5 23.3 18.6 64.8 69

Source: NSI, 2004


The strong point of the lifelong learning survey is its national and European representativeness, and the possibilities for comparison on a wide range of indicators. It is the first national survey that uses the broad definition of lifelong learning. Nevertheless, there is a risk of over-reporting on informal education due to differences in individual definitions and hence giving a more optimistic picture of the situation in Bulgaria than is actually the case.

The data reveal a clear trend of Bulgaria lagging behind most EU Member States with regard to labour force participation in lifelong learning, especially in non-formal training. High quality human capital would play a large part in maintaining the competitiveness of the economy and would facilitate a further convergence with the EU. To this end, efforts are needed at least in the following areas:

  • adoption of a comprehensive strategy on lifelong learning, considering the national labour market context;
  • active and committed participation of the social partners in developing national policy and specific enterprise policy, using collective bargaining and other tools;
  • easier and more equal access to all types of learning activities for all;
  • increased awareness and motivation of individuals and employers to participate and invest in lifelong learning.

Nadezhda Daskalova, Institute for Social and Trade Union Research


Derruine, O., The role of the social partners in lifelong learning, Presented at the 13th meeting of the EU-Bulgaria Joint Consultative Committee, 2005, available online at:

Employment strategy 2004–2010, Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, 2003, available online at: employment strategy 2004 - 2010 -eng.doc

Kailis, E. and Pilos, S., Eurostat, Lifelong learning in Europe, Statistics in focus, 8/2005, Luxembourg, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2005, available online at:

Lazarov, D., Vocational education and training – a key factor for the successful transition of Bulgaria to a knowledge-based economy and society, Report of the Economic and Social Council of Bulgaria, 2005, available online at:

Lisbon Strategy: National programme for reforms 2006–2009, draft (in Bulgarian), available online at:

National Statistical Institute, Lifelong learning 2003, Results of the 2003 ad hoc module on lifelong learning, NSI, 2004 (in Bulgarian).

National report on the European Commission Memorandum on lifelong learning, 2001, available online at:

National strategy for adult education 2007–2013, draft, 2007.

National strategy for continuing vocational training during the period 2005–2010, Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, 2005, available online at: NATIONAL STRATEGY- English.doc

Pact on economic and social development of Bulgaria until 2009, Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, 2006, available online at:

Baev, S. et al, Analysis of the state of continuing vocational training, 2006 (in Bulgarian), available online at:

Annex: About the survey

Methodological details of 2003 ad hoc module on lifelong learning
This table outlines the methodological details of the 2003 ad hoc module on lifelong learning.
Survey name Labour force survey (LFS), ad hoc module on lifelong learning
Organisation responsible, website address National Statistical Institute (Национален Статистически Институт, NSI)
Reference period Previous 12 months from the time of the interview
Survey type Household survey
Survey technique Face-to-face using paper and pen interviewing (PAPI), proxy interviews used
Sample size, stratification The LFS is carried out on a stratified cluster sample of 18,000 households (about 42,000 persons) spread over 12 calendar weeks, providing in this way quarterly average estimations. In the second quarter of 2003, when the ad hoc module was included, over 33,000 persons aged 15 years and over – living in 14,600 households – were interviewed. Distribution by region, place of residence, sex, age, economic activity, educational attainment and occupation
Sampling unit (target population) Individuals aged 15 years and over living in a household
Response rate 81%
Frequency Ad hoc module; last conducted in the second quarter of 2003
Geographical coverage National
Questionnaire In English
Content structure Participation in lifelong learning, including formal, non-formal and informal learning, time spent on learning
Methodology Based on Eurostat methodology; the recommendations of Commission Regulation No. 1313/2002 (111Kb PDF) were taken into account. Instructions in English
Publications related to the survey 1. Lifelong learning 2003, NSI, 2004 (in Bulgarian). 2. Lifelong learning in Europe, Eurostat, Statistics in focus, 8/2005. 3. Baev, S. et al, Analysis of the state of continuing vocational training, 2006 (in Bulgarian)



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