Policymakers face a challenge if they are to convince adults who hold suitable university entry qualifications to pursue higher-level awards, according to a new study.
As part of a drive to improve the nation's skills, the Government has set a target for more than 40 per cent of the workforce to hold a higher education qualification by 2020.
But research carried out by the University of Southampton has found that many suitably qualified adults are living comfortable, stable lives and see little need to participate in higher education.
Although many of the adults interviewed had pursued both work-related training and informal adult learning, they were often inclined to study at the same or at a lower level than the level 3 qualification that they already held.
However, there was an appetite for high-quality work-related and employer-supported provision and for qualifications that offered tangible returns.
Alison Fuller, professor of education and work at Southampton, who is co-director of the Economic and Social Research Council project, said: "These are people who have been getting on with their lives, are mostly in full-time work, relatively comfortable, who have good track records of employment, and left school at a time when qualifications weren't so important.
"Some asked: 'Why would I need or want to go into higher education?' They didn't necessarily want qualifications for everything they did, and they weren't necessarily as 'tuned in' to the linear hierarchy of 'levels' as is embedded in the Government's framework."
Professor Fuller said that many had limited knowledge about the range of qualifications that universities offer.