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The Nordic model for lifelong learning: a solution to the crisis

Last week, Aarhus University hosted the international conference 'Learning Unlimited'. Participating Asian and European researchers in the field of education discussed the potential of the Nordic model for lifelong learning as a strategy for bringing societies through times of crisis.

Around two hundred researchers and political decisionmakers gathered at the Emdrup campus of Aarhus University last week to participate in the four-day conference, which was hosted by the
ASEM Education and Research Hub for Lifelong Learning (the ASEM LLL Hub), an international network of Asian and European higher education institutions to promote research on lifelong learning.

One of the topics explored at the conference was the unique Nordic model for lifelong learning which was highlighted by the Danish Minister of Children and Education Christine Antorini in her opening remarks.


Video: Opening speech, Minister of Children and Education Christine Antorini


Education for all pays off

The Scandinavian countries have a strong tradition for lifelong learning: both public and private organisations prioritise further and continuing education for their staff. One of the major points to emerge from the conference is that this is an advantage in times of crisis.

The research of Dr Andy Green, professor of educational sociology at the London University Institute of Education, seeks to identify the factors which account for the exceptional combination of strong social cohesion and international economic competitiveness characteristic of the Nordic countries.

Dr Green identified a focus on lifelong learning as a decisive factor in his conference presentation on 'Nordic Exceptionalism'. He also explained why this combination of the Nordic social welfare model with lifelong learning strengthens our societies in times of crisis.

As Dr Green explained, equal opportunities for education pay off. It appears that education in the form of lifelong learning for all has far greater significance for the competitiveness of states than previously recognised. Not least in relation to the social cohesion of Nordic society.

Does this mean that Scandinavia is the best place in the world? Is there no room for improvement?

Of course there is, emphasised Dr Green; the Nordic countries are also feeling the crisis. But according to Dr Green, the fact that they have elected to invest in education in the form of lifelong learning for all means that they are in a good position to handle the current economic crisis.

From expense to investment

Danish researchers also contributed to the exploration of Nordic exceptionalism at the conference. Professor Ove Korsgaard provided an historic overview of the development of the Nordic welfare states, and Associate Professor Søren Ehlers explored lifelong learning from the perspective of a shift in the focus of EU educational policy.

He argued that we have witnessed a paradigm shift in education all over Europe which began to accelerate after the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty (1993): the EU and the OECD shifted focus from input to output in relation to lifelong learning.

"The focus is now on learning processes and competency development; which textbook you use is basically irrelevant," Dr Ehlers explained.

At the same time, we have witnessed a shift from a conception of education as an expense to viewing it as an investment:

"Broadly speaking, the Nordic countries were formerly preoccupied with education and the expenses involved in bringing up the next generation of  good citizens. Today, the Nordic 'competition states' are preoccupied with learning as an investment which will yield returns for society."

Se og læs mere om livslang læring

Watch film clips from the conference:

  • Opening speech,:
    Minister of Children and Education Christine Antorini
  • Keynote 1:
    Professor Lynne Chisholm, University of Innsbruck, Austria:
    "Overlapping Worlds: Asian and European Experiences of Learning and Working" (with Theo van Dellen)
  • Panel discussion:
    Lynne Chisholm, Prof. Dr. Ekkehard Nuissl von Rein and Theo van Dellen

About ASEM Forum for Lifelong Learning

Read the latest ASEM magazine on 'Lifelong Learning and Respect for the Cultures of Learning'


If you would like more information about the conference presentations and the keynote speakers, please contact

Claus Holm
E: clho@dpu.dk
M: + 45 2688 5600