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Nationwide protests over funding U-turn

Students and lecturers demonstrate against a shift in adult learning priorities. Joseph Lee reports

Protests are being planned across the country by lecturers whose jobs are at risk from the closure of adult education and A-level courses.

The first demonstrations took place this week as colleges revealed plans for coping with the Government's changed priorities in funding and its call for a greater focus on skills training.

At Cambridge Regional college, students and lecturers demonstrated on Tuesday over the abolition of A-level courses.

Lecturers were also expected to walk out of Lambeth college, London, yesterday to protest over multi-million-pound cuts to adult education.

Other London colleges plan to lobby MPs at the end of the month, when final funding allocations are likely to be known.

Unions said these were just the first flashpoints among dozens of colleges facing difficulties. Early results from a survey by Natfhe, the lecturers'

union, suggest that 44 of England's colleges and adult education services are cutting curriculum areas and jobs, and more are expected.

Dan Taubman, Natfhe's education official, said: "It's clear that there are cuts which are much deeper than last year, and frankly much deeper than we anticipated."

Peter Pendle, chief executive and general secretary of the Association for College Management, said London and the South-east were particularly suffering from restructuring.

He said: "Our membership has grown over the past three or four years, but the level of casework on college restructuring has gone up something like 75 per cent. We are struggling with the workload."

But he said colleges were not to blame for the upheavals. "They've got no choice - the funding position gives them no choice," he said.

"When governments make their priorities change, down the food chain people lose their jobs. That's what's happening."

At Lambeth college, lecturers were due to stage a two-hour walkout and march in protest at the pound;2.3 million cuts to their adult education budget.

Frank Innes, joint Natfhe branch secretary of Lambeth college, said that as more colleges finalised their budgets, the protests would spread. "We are at the spearhead of this - other colleges are now following suit," he said.

Lambeth college says it has made every effort to minimise the impact of the cuts. A spokeswoman said: "The college's hands are tied. There's nothing we can do. We don't want to make these cuts, but we are in a situation where we have to."

At Cambridge Regional college, A-level courses are being cut from September because of the Foster report's call to focus on vocational training and because of low student numbers.

Students whose courses will end prematurely and lecturers whose jobs are at risk demonstrated outside the college. Steve Caley, vice-principal of Cambridge Regional college, said many staff would be moved to new courses, although nine full-time equivalent posts were expected to disappear through voluntary redundancy.

He said students would be able to transfer to neighbouring colleges - many with better reputations for A-level courses. He added: "A lot of other colleges are looking at the same thing."

A sixth of the colleges in the Natfhe survey which are reviewing their courses are cutting A-level courses.

Mr Caley said: "Staff and students involved don't want this to happen. We have spent hours and hours, days and days explaining why we are doing this.

"People feel angry that it's happened to them and they would rather it would go away. But we don't know when a good time to take this decision would have been."

Taxpayers loath to foot the bill 3

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