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Adult courses are aid to sanity

Skills minister Phil Hope this week heard an impassioned plea for "desperate housewives" to have free access to adult learning.

The call came from Liberal Democrat MP Vincent Cable, who cited the example of his own mother in a debate on the future of adult education. He told the Commons that attending adult education courses helped his mother to recover from depression.

Dr Cable had called the debate because colleges throughout the country are cutting up to 300,000 courses for adult students in the next academic year.

He told MPs his mother had become frustrated that her only role in life was to put meals on the table for her family.

"That drove her to mental illness," he said. "She was saved by taking courses in art and philosophy, even though she was berated for not learning anything useful."

He also spoke of how Richmond College in his Twickenham constituency in London has transformed people's lives.

He mentioned a cerebral palsy sufferer who took an advanced IT course and is now running his own business and a traveller who learned to read so he could read bedtime stories to his children.

"It is not just about numbers. The college provides a community in a very real sense," he added. "It also helps people to realise their potential in exceptional ways." He said there is "growing anxiety" about the future of such courses because the Government is giving priority to 16 to 19-year-olds.

He said: "There has been a 10.3 per cent growth in funding for 16 to 19s but a 3 per cent cut in adult education. Colleges say they need a 5 per cent increase to maintain current provision, so in fact they have had an 8 per cent cut."

Mr Hope said there had been a "massive increase in participation" in adult learning since 1997. He said colleges currently choose to waive pound;100 million in fees.

Michael Foster, Labour MP for Worcester, called on the minister to release, by today, a Learning and Skills Development Agency report which is expected to show that the real funding gap between colleges and schools is between 12 and 14 per cent, higher than the generally recognised 10 per cent.

Protest by students with disabilities 2

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