Towards a basic income for life­long learning

shut­ter­stock: Monkey Busi­ness Images

We are living in times of rapid change: climate change, dig­i­tal­iza­tion, the COVID-19 pan­demic, the looming sys­temic com­pe­ti­tion with China, global migra­tion, and the realign­ment of glob­al­iza­tion are chang­ing our world. Each of those poses their own chal­lenges, but they also mutu­ally rein­force each other.

Change is a char­ac­ter­is­tic of the modern age. But the current change is faster than before, and it comes with inse­cu­ri­ties for broader parts of the pop­u­la­tion. There is an increas­ing desire for con­sis­tent secu­rity and belong­ing. To be able to risk change, a certain “secu­rity cor­ri­dor” is needed. This is what we call “secu­rity in times of rapid change.”

Pol­i­tics must play a role

Pol­i­tics must provide people with secu­rity in times of rapid change. There­fore, politi­cians are called upon to find answers. The answers should include two things: First, they must offer solu­tions to the chal­lenges out­lined, and second, they must give people “secu­rity in times of rapid change.” This secu­rity, which allows people to be in control of and shape their own lives even in phases of rapid change,– is also impor­tant for democ­racy. In this way, democ­racy can (and must!) prove that it is capable of acting (Center for Liberal Moder­nity, 2019).

How can secu­rity in times of rapid change be achieved? The mega­trends described above have a massive impact on our economy and the way we live and work.  Studies show that over 50% of all exist­ing jobs will change in the next ten to 15 years, and some will no longer exist. The Covid-19 pan­demic accel­er­ated processes that started before, espe­cially in tech­nol­ogy adap­tion (see, for example, World Eco­nomic Forum 2020).

This makes edu­ca­tion and life­long learn­ing even more impor­tant areas than ever before. While there are lots of policy instru­ments to foster primary and sec­ondary edu­ca­tion, life­long learn­ing is not the focus of pol­i­cy­mak­ers in most coun­tries. It is mostly left to indi­vid­u­als and com­pa­nies, who do a lot – in Germany, they finance 2/​3 of life­long learn­ing activ­i­ties alone. But this is not enough: Climate change, dig­i­tal­iza­tion, sys­temic com­pe­ti­tion, and the recon­fig­u­ra­tion of glob­al­iza­tion will cause tremen­dous struc­tural changes in the ways we live, work, and produce. It will, for most cit­i­zens, no longer be enough to be trained and then remain in one occu­pa­tion for their entire working lives.

We need a basic income for life­long learning

What is needed is a broad ini­tia­tive to foster life­long learn­ing. We, there­fore, propose making massive invest­ments in this area and grant­ing every citizen a basic edu­ca­tion income for life­long learn­ing. This instru­ment can be designed dif­fer­ently for each country. I will describe it for the case of Germany.

The basic edu­ca­tion income pro­posed here com­bines a legal right to further edu­ca­tion with a con­crete financ­ing instru­ment. It grants every adult citizen up to three years of state-financed further edu­ca­tion. This instru­ment allows people to change careers during the course of their working lives and enables them to learn some­thing com­pletely new or to renew their com­pe­ten­cies in certain areas. They can decide on their own in which area they want to spe­cial­ize if they want to learn some­thing com­pletely new or even do a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

A legal right to con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion should apply to all people of working age. A legal enti­tle­ment is enforce­able; it gives cit­i­zens a strong posi­tion vis-à-vis the state. A right to con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion anchors the issue in people’s minds.

People need the chance to change careers and to learn some­thing new

The demand for a legal right to con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion is wide­spread, both polit­i­cally and in the pro­fes­sional com­mu­nity in Germany and beyond. However, it is of little use if it is not linked to con­crete instru­ments. Central to this is the ques­tion of financing.

The Center for Liberal Moder­nity, there­fore, has pro­posed a basic income for life­long learn­ing and has modeled it on the German case. It should be avail­able to all people between the ages of 25 and 65, i.e., during their active working phase, for job-related or pro­fes­sional further education.

They should be able to take advan­tage of this basic edu­ca­tion income for up to three years over the course of their working lives, either in whole or in part. Part-time train­ing would be pos­si­ble, but the initial train­ing and purely company-based further train­ing would be excluded, as well as train­ing courses that are solely for private devel­op­ment and cannot be used for work. These restric­tions are jus­ti­fied because the basic edu­ca­tion income would be financed from tax rev­enues (see below). In such financ­ing, a balance must be found between added value and indi­vid­ual benefit.

We propose a basic amount of 1200 euros net per month. This amount would allow low-income earners to make very few cuts but would force higher-income earners to spend part of their savings to main­tain their stan­dard of living. This can be jus­ti­fied because it is a state invest­ment with an impact on society as a whole, but it can also have pos­i­tive effects for the indi­vid­ual ­– less unem­ploy­ment, a higher life­time income, more life sat­is­fac­tion. In addi­tion, sup­ple­ments would be pro­vided for chil­dren or impair­ments, e.g. 200 euros per child. Social secu­rity con­tri­bu­tions and course and mate­r­ial costs would also be covered. A minimum claim period of three months at a time would ensure that the admin­is­tra­tive costs and ben­e­fits of con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion are not out of proportion.

In order to make life­long learn­ing acces­si­ble to broader sec­tions of the pop­u­la­tion, a number of other mea­sures are needed in addi­tion to a legal enti­tle­ment and a simple financ­ing instru­ment, includ­ing acces­si­ble con­sult­ing, quality checks, and main­stream­ing of the market for further edu­ca­tion. These would help to make con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion more acces­si­ble, and to ensure and improve the quality of the pro­grams. It is impor­tant for the idea of a legal right that people are not bound to the guid­ance given. They are free to decide what­ever train­ing they want to make within the port­fo­lio of the basic income for life­long learning.

States should invest heavily in further education

It is dif­fi­cult to foresee exactly what the costs of a basic edu­ca­tion income would be. It is still unclear to what extent it would be taken up if it were a simple, easy-to-under­stand, and avail­able instru­ment. We assume that far more people would opt for sub­stan­tial, job-ready train­ing than they do now if a basic income for life­long learn­ing were avail­able. This is evident on the cost side, but also on the benefit side. The fact that con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion can help sig­nif­i­cantly in coping with the upcom­ing struc­tural change in our economy and working world jus­ti­fies gov­ern­ment invest­ment to a much greater extent than before.

For Germany, the eco­nomic research company Prog­nose cal­cu­lated two sce­nar­ios that assume that each year one percent of those enti­tled to it – around 367,000 people – take up a basic edu­ca­tion income for an average of four and seven months respec­tively. Includ­ing living expenses, course costs, and social secu­rity con­tri­bu­tions, the cal­cu­la­tions arrive at a range of between 7 and 14 billion euros annu­ally (Center for Liberal Moder­nity 2021).

A basic edu­ca­tion income would be a strong gov­ern­ment invest­ment in minds. But the polit­i­cal and social con­sen­sus is nec­es­sary. The call to estab­lish a legal right to con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion must also be widely shared polit­i­cally. The basic income for life­long learn­ing would be a strong invest­ment in the future – an invest­ment that also entails costs. However, these costs could be offset, at least in part. What is the value? It will empower people to take care of their own lives and career, help to prevent unem­ploy­ment, foster eco­nomic growth and inno­va­tion, help reg­u­late migra­tion and help sta­bi­lize democ­racy by pro­vid­ing poli­cies that empower citizens.

A basic edu­ca­tion income can help not only to cushion struc­tural change in the labor market but also to make it pos­si­ble to shape it – both polit­i­cally and indi­vid­u­ally. This can lead to lower spend­ing on (long-term) unem­ploy­ment and thus to higher tax and social secu­rity rev­enues. These two effects would also help to amor­tize the costs of a basic edu­ca­tion income in the medium term.

A basic income for life­long learn­ing would help democ­racy to deliver

A basic income for life­long learn­ing has great poten­tial. It is a flex­i­ble instru­ment that allows for quick reac­tions to changes in the economy, skill sets, and the labor market. Tying a financ­ing instru­ment to a citizen’s right to con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion offers a way to gal­va­nize com­pre­hen­sive polit­i­cal support for the con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion sector. By being unbu­reau­cratic, easy to under­stand, widely applic­a­ble, and linked to non-binding but com­pe­tent guid­ance, the instru­ment has the poten­tial to sig­nif­i­cantly increase par­tic­i­pa­tion in con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion. What’s more, it pro­motes par­tic­i­pa­tion in con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion and, beyond that, in society.

This also has reper­cus­sions for our democ­racy: if people feel they can take respon­si­bil­ity for their own lives, their approval of democ­racy increases. The argu­ment also works the other way around: democ­racy is only suc­cess­ful in the long term if it “deliv­ers,” i.e., gives people the oppor­tu­nity to develop. It must offer people “secu­rity in times of rapid change,” even and espe­cially in times of major change. A basic edu­ca­tion income can be a build­ing block for this.

The pro­posed instru­ment is a suit­able model for devel­oped coun­tries with a solid basic edu­ca­tion and finan­cial resources. Here, states can invest larger amounts also in further edu­ca­tion. But it is also a model that can be applied to dif­fer­ent national and supra­na­tional con­texts. The G20 can promote such an instru­ment, create funds to finance it, and allo­cate the money to the areas where it is needed most. The chal­lenges described in the begin­ning, namely climate change, dig­i­tal­iza­tion, and global migra­tion, are affect­ing the Global South and devel­op­ing coun­tries even more.

Thus, the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity can take on respon­si­bil­ity and create funds to foster life­long learn­ing world­wide. The basic income for life­long learn­ing can be a model for such funds.

This can be used in addi­tion to the much-crit­i­cized micro­cre­dit system (see Chliova et al. 2015 for a meta-analy­sis). While micro­cre­d­its start with the under-finan­cial­iza­tion of people, a basic income for life­long learn­ing assesses the skills people have or can obtain. Both are much needed, espe­cially in devel­op­ing soci­eties and both help empower people to lead their own lives.



Center for Liberal Moder­nity (2021): Basic Income for Life­long Learn­ing. Pro­posal for a new financ­ing of con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion. German: Zentrum Lib­erale Moderne (2021): Das Bil­dungs­grun­deinkom­men. Vorschlag für eine neue Weit­er­bil­dungs­fi­nanzierung.

Center for Liberal Moder­nity (2019). Secu­rity in Tran­si­tion. Social Cohe­sion in Times of Stormy Change. German: Zentrum Lib­erale Moderne (2019). Sicher­heit im Wandel. Gesellschaftlicher Zusam­men­halt in Zeiten stür­mis­cher Verän­derung.

Chliova, Myrto; Brinck­mann, Jan; Rosen­busch, Nina (2015): Is micro­cre­dit a bless­ing for the poor? A meta-analy­sis exam­in­ing devel­op­ment out­comes and con­tex­tual con­sid­er­a­tions. In: Journal of Busi­ness Ven­tur­ing 30(3), pp. 467–487.

World Eco­nomic Forum (2020): The future of Jobs Report 2020.

This article was first pub­lished in the Global Solu­tions Journal Issue 8. Link:


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