But the injection of an extra pound;1.2bn a year is strictly geared to employment and will mean more cuts to adult education.Further education is to get an extra pound;1.2 billion a year by 2010 to improve the skills of the nation's workforce. But raising the sector's budget to pound;12.3 billion comes with strings attached: yet another move to tie adult education funding to employment.
The strategy is revealed in the Government's priorities for the Learning and Skills Council, the FE funding body. Its statement of priorities says more than 400,000 places for adults choosing their own studies at college will disappear over the next three years, mostly from courses below level 2 (GCSE equivalent) and outside the qualifications framework. Only 116,000 such places will remain in England.
More than 1 million places have already been lost in adult education as a result of a shift in priorities towards skills for employment. But the numbers studying through work, either in apprenticeships or through Train to Gain, are planned to rise by nearly 500,000 by 2010.
Train to Gain, the scheme in which employers get free or subsidised training for staff, will account for pound;503m of the extra spending, while apprenticeships will get an extra pound;210m.
An extra pound;265m each year will be made available for capital projects for new college buildings.
Bill Rammell, the further and higher education minister, said: "We need to get the system in the best possible shape to get employers on board. We are making it clear the funding opportunity is there."
Most colleges now receive at least 50 per cent funding for their new buildings thanks to the increases in capital funding, Mr Rammell said. But he added that he made no apologies for also requiring colleges to find investment themselves.
Alan Tuckett, director of Niace, the adult education organisation, said the Government had been saying all the right things about improving the balance between education for the economy and for social cohesion, but the budget told a different story.
"It's bananas," he said. "You can't take 75 per cent of the funding for one area away and 75 per cent of the participation and still say you're committed to broad-based adult learning. The Government was being too hasty in switching funding from courses chosen by individuals to employer-led courses."
Julian Gravatt, director of funding and development at the Association of Colleges, said the extra investment was welcome but echoed concerns about the commitment of employers.
He said: "Colleges and the 'can-do' FE sector are up for expansion, but they know that many of the main challenges that government has set out will need the support of employers. There are many more people wanting to become apprentices, for example, than work placements available for them."
- The funding settlement will be debated in the second of three conferences on adult education, sponsored by FE Focus and organised by Niace. It takes place next Thursday at the London Chamber of Commerce. Adult education in FE is funded to the tune of pound;2.9bn, compared with pound;10.3bn for adults in higher education, according to new research from consultants Mark Corney and Mick Fletcher.
QUALITY AGENCIES: MERGER ANNOUNCED
The Quality Improvement Agency and the Centre for Excellence in Leadership are to merge into a single body, it was announced yesterday.
The new body is expected to be in place from April. Bill Rammell, the further and higher education minister, said: "Clearly, there will be some economies of scale.
"We acknowledge there is a need to rationalise.
"There are areas where the QIA and CEL programmes have much in common. There may need to be some rationalisation in terms of the back office functions, but that will be a matter for the senior management team."