Sixty trainee plumbers have been told there will be no more classes because of a shortage of lecturers. Some were just a few weeks from finishing their two-year courses.
Plumbing students of Northbrook college, West Sussex, have complained to the Learning and Skills Council, the National Union of Students and the Citizens Advice Bureau. John Hawkley, dean of the technology division, wrote to tell them: "Regrettably we have no choice but to suspend the plumbing area immediately. We apologise for the late notice."
Students were aware of the problem but say they had understood plumbing lecturers due to leave had signed contracts to the end of term, enabling courses to be completed. Plumbers are now being offered the alternative of going to the Burgess Hill campus of Crawley college. For some, this will entail a round trip of more than 80 miles. Many says they already struggle to get to the Northbrook site near Worthing.
Carl Rance, 33, had just three weeks to go before completing his NVQ level 2 (GCSE-equivalent) course. He said: "I was a restaurateur for five years.
The business was successful but the hours were killing me. I was doing 70 a week.
"I wanted to see more of my family. I've three young children aged six, three and 18 months. I was on a decent wage but now I'm relying on my access grant and childcare vouchers."
Soon after the news, students formed a picket line outside the college foyer with a placard saying: "You are destroying our future." Student Sandra Pickering said: "No reasonable alternative has been offered."
John Offord, NUS FE policy and research officer, said: "Evidently the college has failed to provide students with efficient and effective administration of their education and learning as laid down in the Government's charter. We are investigating to see if it is in breach of contract."
Dr Michael Thrower, principal of Northbrook, said: "The post of acting programme manager was offered to a well-qualified candidate, who did not take it up for personal reasons. College managers were not confident they could appoint someone new in time.
"Despite the difficult national situation in recruiting qualified and experienced plumbing teachers at pay levels offered in FE, the college was confident the quality of its teachers was such that standards could be maintained.
"Northbrook works closely with other colleges, particularly Crawley and City college in Brighton and Hove. Crawley offered tuition at its new Burgess Hill site and this was accepted. Further consultation has taken place between the three to seek a long-term solution.
Dr Thrower said that students were informed immediately and travel costs were being met by the college and childcare arrangements made where appropriate. It is intended all options are reviewed to ensure students are taught on the Broadwater site at the earliest opportunity."