The number of adults in further education has dropped by 1.3 million since 2010, according to new figures.
Data from the Skills Funding Agency reveals that the number of FE learners dropped to 2.6 million in 2014-15. Of these, 753,300 were on full level 2 courses, with 419,900 on full level 3 programmes.
Adult learning body Niace said successive funding cuts “meant that colleges and other providers are struggling to offer courses people need alongside meeting the government’s priorities”.
Chief executive David Hughes said: “While the situation is shocking now, I’m fearful that things will get progressively worse as a result of funding decisions which will be revealed in next week’s spending review.
“Lifelong learning plays a vital role in ensuring that adults of all ages have opportunities to get on in work and in life. Far too many people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are already missing out. This not only threatens their own life chances but damages the prospects for increased workforce productivity and for sustained economic growth.”
The figures also reveal that there were 499,900 apprenticeship starts in the 2014-15 academic year, an increase of 13.5 per cent from the previous year.
Addressing the Association of Colleges’ annual conference yesterday, skills minister Nick Boles set colleges a target of increasing the proportion of apprenticeships that they delivered to two-thirds of the total number by 2019-20.
He also acknowledged that the FE sector “will not be insulated from further spending cuts” in next week’s spending review.