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Plea for future adult learners

The acquisition of the National Extension College by the Learning and Skills Network last year worried those of us who want to keep opportunities for the many adults who cannot pursue "traditional" learning routes.

Dr Ann Limb, NEC chair of trustees, defended LSN's suitability as a partner, saying its investment would allow the NEC to expand and double student numbers to 41,000 (FE Focus, 16 July 2010). LSN's then CEO John Stone provided reassurance that NEC would remain a distinct operation.

A year on, another picture has emerged. As early as last October, LSN began talks with Cambridge local authority planners on other uses for the NEC site. This month, the site was put up for sale. The promised investment in IT and facilities has not materialised; many experienced staff have found other jobs or asked for voluntary redundancy.

The agreement between the two bodies states that the net assets of NEC are to be used for purposes consistent with the Michael Young legacy. The vision Michael set out for the NEC in 1988, its 25th year, was to provide all adults with open and flexible ways to develop skills for work, for personal fulfillment and to make a wider contribution to society.

The only positive gestures made so far by LSN are to offer to hold a memorial lecture in 2012 and archive NEC's documentation. Those who worked with Michael know he would not want to be remembered by a lecture and being consigned to an archive.

We call on the LSN trustees and senior management to accept that the merger has not worked for either body. The most honourable course of action would be for LSN to relinquish NEC and its assets.

LSN holds NEC's future in its hands: at a stroke, it can preserve this asset for the next generation of adult learners. We urge its trustees to make this decision in the interest of adult learners.

Dr Judith Bell, former NEC trustee, Lady Jane Berrill, friend of NEC, Richard Bourne, Institute of Commonwealth Studies and others.

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