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New base on cards for adult learning

ADULT learning is flourishing - at least if the expansion of its national organisation is anything to go by.

The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education is considering building a research and development headquarters in Leicester. There would be shared services and an assembly space for different organisations in adult learning.

At NIACE's annual general meeting, director Alan Tuckett said securing new premises was now a top priority for the organisation, which had seen its staff grow from 20 to 160 in the past five years together with an annual budget that had now reached pound;12 million. "We can either do this on our own or with other organisations concerned with lifelong learning. We are convinced there is a benefit in conviviality and we have a very good record in working with other people," he said.

The finances of NIACE have never been in such good shape, according to finance director Richard Ely, despite the fluctuations of the stock market. The turnover had grown 40 per cent a year over the past two years with extra contracts.

"Without any false optimism, it seems logical to solve our massive accommodation problem with a new building to replace the three buildings in which we are now having to operate," he said. NIACE was now talking with various other partners with a view to sharing a new building in Leicester. One is the Leicester-based National Youth Agency.

Alan Tuckett said there were few other national organisations which had enjoyed such rapid expansion. This had come about because they had a contract from the LSC to manage the Adult Community Learning Fund, followed by a massive grant to manage the basic skills training programme, both of which accounted for more than 20 per cent of the budget.

Despite NIACE's pound;5m of assets and pound;2m in the bank, there were some sceptics. Robert Lochrie, a member of the finance committee and general secretary of the Workers' Educational Association, wondered what "national" meant and if the new centre might not become a giant talking shop with different interests talking across each other.

Veteran researcher Naomi Sargant, a member of the NIACE executive, thought the days of plenty might be numbered with the Government focusing future investment on workforce development, skills and qualifications rather than liberal adult education. Even Alan Tuckett admitted that NIACE might have reached the "high water mark" of Government generosity with David Blunkett as Education Secretary.

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