The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)’s Learning Cities agenda promotes education across all sectors and environments, but the success of its initiatives have not been rigorously evaluated.

This project aims to develop comparable urban-based indicators with which we can examine the influence of a range of factors on lifelong learning participation in postgraduate education and less formal adult learning settings.

Aims and Objectives

Despite UNESCO’s Learning Cities agenda, which argues for the mobilisation of resources to promote education across all sectors and environments, there is little evaluative research on learning city engagement that is both naturalistic and rigorous (see Lido, Reid and Osborne 2019). We have already explored informal learning and lifewide literacies amongst adults in Glasgow using three distinct approaches to data collection: a household survey capturing rich data on learning attitudes, behaviours, and literacies; GPS trails that track mobility around the city; and the capture of naturally occurring social media. The work has begun the operationalisation of learning city indicators and has explored a number of domains beyond education, some of which have not previously been considered in surveys of adult learning, for example, travel patterns.

ONS has a particular interest in the development of local indicators of skills and productivity, and we will work with them and others to explore how we might develop composite indicators of urban learning that operationalize UNESCO’s Learning Cities framework, with potentially widespread application in cities within the UK and beyond. This will involve further interrogation of existing data within the iMCD.

Considerable work has already been done on composite indicators, including within the area of lifelong learning, and we will be informed by the work of EU’s JRC (Joint Research Committee)-COIN (Competence Centre on Composite Indicators and Scoreboards) team, which has developed methodologies in a number of domains. However, the work shows that, in the area of lifelong learning, outcomes are not fine-grained at city level, and we there may be able to develop measures of greater use in urban settings.

This project will, therefore, set about addressing the following research questions:

  • How might we operationalise robust indicators for Learning Cities and create international comparisons for best practices in urban settings globally?
  • Can viable and culturally sensitive composite indicators for learning cities be developed?
  • How are less formal types of learning in the form of life-wide literacies (particularly cultural literacies, as well as health, financial and ecological literacies) related to positive educational and health outcomes, particularly for older adults and those in marginalised communities?
  • What factors are affecting lifelong learning participation, into postgraduate and less formal adult learning settings? How does adult learning in Scotland compare with that in England and other comparable countries?


Lead: Professor Michael Osborne

Team: Professor Catherine Lido, Dr Phil Mason

Latest Outputs