What is the WEA? PDF Print E-mail

The Workers’ Educational Association provides adult learning in community and workplace settings. Its title is somewhat misleading as it provides education for all types of people and in particular tries to reach out to those who missed out on learning first time round.  It works mainly with those over 18.

Some background ...  

  • It was set up in Belfast in 1910 as part of a wider network of WEAs, the first of which started in England in 1903.
  • Today it operates across Northern Ireland and in the Border Counties in the Republic.
  • A brief history of the WEA was published in 2003 and can be downloaded from the Centenary page on this site.

Its courses are organized mainly in venues such as community halls, arts centres and training rooms in workplaces. In fact it can pretty much set up a course wherever and whenever a community group, voluntary organization, union or employer needs it.


Currently it employs 19 people who organize, administer and manage all its courses and uses over 150 part-time tutors each year to deliver the actual teaching. It has offices in Belfast and L/Derry.


The WEA is a not-for-profit organization which sources its funding in a number of ways. It competes for publicly advertised tenders which usually enable free learning. It seeks grants from bodies such as the Big Lottery. It also raises money from philanthropic foundations which again enables it to provide courses which are free or at a very low cost.  In addition many groups and organisations purchase courses which are priced at a full-cost recovery basis.

Types of Courses

The WEA offers a varied mix of courses covering, computing, employment skills, women’s self development, leadership, community development, community relations, literacy, numeracy and creative industries, to name but a few. If you are looking for a particular type of course try the course search.  Most courses now provide qualifications.

Types of learners

WEA learners are mainly over 18 and its oldest learner to date has been 94. Within this age range people with all kinds of backgrounds come together to learn.  The WEA is particularly interested in encouraging people who feel they missed out on education to get back into learning. Many of its learners have no previous qualifications and are looking for a course where they will be with others who have also been out of learning for some time.  The WEA has made a specialism of working to attract male learners and has also been an advocate of learning for older people for many years.