The programme of Adult Education made its debut in JNU in 1978-79 in response to the National Adult Education Policy of Government of India (GOI) and the UGC Policy Framework of Higher education which recognized extension and adult education as the third dimension of higher education in addition to teaching and research. In 1984, the University accorded the programme an independent status, and named it as 'Unit of Adult and Continuing Education'. Subsequently in 1999, it was renamed as the 'Group of Adult Education'. Since then, the Group has considerably expanded its programmes and activities including research and teaching activities.
The academic mission of GAE is to unfold thematically various concepts in adult education and lifelong learning – studying, learning and subjectivity in societal contexts, including structural aspects of gender, class, social justice, poverty and livelihood security, and the historical understanding of knowledge, skills, competence, competitiveness and quality of public life for the common, ordinary people. Joining international advocacy groups, GAE too focuses on: (1) Learning Throughout Life in Different Cultural Contexts; (2) CONFINTEA V and Dakar Follow-up; (3) Capacity Building in and for Lifelong Learning; (4) Structured Advocacy & Action for Sustainable Livelihoods: Development Education, Networking, Documentation & Communication; and (5) Education and Awareness of Consumer Rights Related Issues in Contemporary Indian Society.