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Doors shut on adult students

Shift in funding priorities towards 16 to 19-year-olds puts pressure on colleges to scrap evening classes for older people.

The lights are going out in colleges across the country as funding pressures lead principals to close evening classes for adult students.

Two colleges are closing their doors at 6pm for an extra night a week as a result of the cuts.

West Anglia college is closing its main campus in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, every Monday night to meet a pound;720,000 shortfall in its adult learning budget.

Tower Hamlets college in east London, rated outstanding by inspectors this year, is now only open for classes on two evening a week, down from three evenings a week last year.

Elsewhere, colleges are shutting down learning centres that have previously attracted adult learners in outlying areas.

Peter Stewart, West Anglia's principal, said: "It is very sad. It is the first time in my 30 years in further education that any of the five colleges I have worked in have not been open on any Monday to Thursday evening for classes.

"There are people out there who want to use our resources, but they are standing idle. People look to evening learning as a way in which they can change their career or enhance their jobs prospects.

"What is particularly sad is the loss of programmes that were confidence-building for people who were coming back to learning."

Tower Hamlets college has received around pound;450,000 less for adult courses and has enrolled 600 fewer adults this year.

Ceri Williams, vice principal for adult learning, said: "Adults want to learn, and we want to teach them. If the Government doesn't listen and act on our concerns, the situation will get worse."

Courses have been squeezed by the Government's policy of prioritising courses for 16 to 19-year-olds.

The Association of Colleges is conducting a survey of member colleges to assess the impact the cuts have had on the sector.

It has been lobbying the Government for more cash. Other principals this week expressed fears that they too will have to shut their doors as pressures on adult learning continues.

Dick Palmer, at Norwich City college, has made 40 staff redundant as a result of a pound;630,000 cut in the adult learning budget.

He said: "If this trend continues, we will end up being a nine-to-five institution."

New college, Swindon, claims to be the hardest-hit in the country, with a 33 per cent cut in its adult learning funding. It has had to axe all out-of-area and distance- learning work.

Principal Graham Taylor said: "Do we feel dumped on? You bet we do. The cut of pound;1.1 million is the highest in the country and 4,500 learners have been swept away.

"Most commentators say the concentration on 16 to 18 is a good thing. But so is a concentration on adults. Of the 2015 workforce, 80 per cent have already left school.

"Millions of adults will have to work into their seventies to cover pensions deficits. Yet for every 16-18 place created, up to 10 adult student places are lost."

He says local learning and skills councils should be scrapped and the money diverted to adult learners.

Skelmersdale and Ormskirk college in Lancashire has shut adult classes in eight community centres and village halls in the surrounding area.

David Neville, the college's director of studies, said the number of adults on courses is down from 8,400 last year to 7,200 now. Around 50 part-time lecturers have not had contracts renewed.

He said: "For many years, our strategy has been to take learning to where the learners are, but we have had to abandon that."

Rob Wye, the LSC's strategy director, said: "We recognise that this is a difficult time for colleges. "This is about a balance between the state, the college, and the individual. Lots of colleges are looking at the option of raising fees and this is important."

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