Adult education in inner London is "bruised and fractured but not dead", according to a report commissioned by the college lecturers' union, NATFHE.
When the service was run by the Inner London Education Authority it was described as "the jewel in the crown" by adult educators who feared that it would disappear when the ILEA was abolished in 1990.
"It appears that London adult education was a hardier plant than it seemed in the early 90s," said Mike Cushman, author of the report and former head of Lambeth's adult education service. "But it is much reduced, straitened and increasingly vocationalised."
The notion of a comprehensive adult education service offering a wide range of non-examined courses at fees everyone can afford has disappeared in most boroughs. It has been replaced by a narrower curriculum targeted to students' educational or social needs.
Today delegates from the adult education world are meeting in London at a conference organised by the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education to discuss his report and plan an agenda for action for the year 2000.
The ILEA was broken up into 12 authorities, only two of whom now provide adult education advisory services. And staff do not have the time or energy to link up with other institutions, let alone other boroughs, says the report. In any case the competitive climate did not encourage the sharing of ideas. "Now our neighbours are our competitors and that's the last thing I would do," said one manager.
Older learners have suffered the most from the cuts in adult education, says the report. Fees have increased but choice has declined.
Mr Cushman said that sport and physical activities, accounting for a quarter of enrolments under the ILEA, had reduced dramatically. This affected poorer students, especially working-class young men, who could not afford leisure centre fees. These classes, though of doubtful educational value, at least got people involved in a sport and gave their first taste of post-school education, he said.
Fees have risen sharply since 1990 and it is harder for adults to cross borough boundaries as the reciprocal arrangements have largely gone. Some non-residents faced fees of Pounds 6 an hour. "This resulted not only in a loss of revenue but also a potential reduction of provision to borough residents, " he said.
Alan Tuckett, director of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, said a regional strategy was needed. "Mike Cushman's paper reminds us of the confidence, passion and energy of the old service which we could do with to fill the current gap between the targets and the strategies needed for meeting them."