Two education reports commissioned by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Learning to be, otherwise known as the Faure report (1972) and Learning: The treasure within, otherwise known as the Delors report (1996), have been associated with the establishment of lifelong learning as a global educational paradigm. In this article, which draws on archival research and interviews, I will explore how these two reports have contributed to debates on the purpose of education and learning. In the first half, I will shed light on their origins, the context in which they came about, how they have been received by the education community and by UNESCO member states and how they have been discussed in the scholarly literature. In the second half, I will discuss the key themes of the reports, in particular lifelong learning as the global educational ‘master concept’. In the last section, I will reflect on how the Faure report and the Delors report are still relevant for our debates about learning today. I will argue that the concept of lifelong learning, as put forward by these reports, was a political utopia which is at odds with today's utilitarian view of education.