The Association of Colleges has called on the government to "reshape" adult education in England, placing greater emphasis on higher-level technical and vocational routes.
Martin Doel, chief executive of the AoC, said that colleges were "perfectly placed" to train adults to meet the skills shortage but required more money to do so. Mr Doel's comments came as MPs were due to challenge ministers over significant cuts to adult learning.
Funding cuts have led to a 35 per cent reduction in the adult skills budget over the past five years and the introduction of FE loans for students aged 24 and over has resulted in the numbers of enrolments on advanced and higher-level courses declining by 20 per cent.
Meg Hillier, MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch in London, called the House of Commons debate, which was due to take place on Wednesday, after becoming concerned about the situation in her own constituency.
Mr Doel said: "The government needs to look at reshaping post-18 education to place equal emphasis on higher technical and vocational education to ensure there are alternatives to the full-time, three-year academic route.
"The lack of budget already means that despite the efforts of colleges to sustain participation.fewer adults are now coming back to study."