The Women's Institute has joined the campaign to save adult education in advance of severe cuts expected in the spending review later this month.
Ruth Bond, chair of the National Federation of Women's Institutes (NFWI), has written to Business, Innovation and Skills Secretary Vince Cable to appeal for spending on lifelong learning to be preserved. Members are also being encouraged to flood the secretary of state with messages of support for adult education.
"As an educational charity committed to the wellbeing of women, their families and communities, the NFWI has been campaigning since 1922 for the continuance and development of adult education and the role that could be played by the voluntary sector in delivering this," Ms Bond said.
"The WI works through its federations, members, volunteers and the wider community to help to create the `Big Society' on a daily basis and through this work is turning the Government's own vision into a living reality.
"The WI has continually supported lifelong learning since its inception nearly 100 years ago and as the largest women's voluntary organisation in the UK, our members have a powerful voice. At this critical time, we sincerely hope that the Government takes members' concerns into account when deciding upon the future of FE funding."
Specialist adult education institutions began campaigning for their futures last week, fearing that cuts to the adult learning budget in the spending review could put their survival in doubt.
Institutions such as City Lit, Morley College and the Workers' Educational Association have begun letter-writing campaigns and petitions to preserve their funding, which faces heavier cuts than the 16-19 budget. They warned that adult education could become the preserve of middle-class students who could afford to meet increasingly high fees, ending its contribution to social mobility.
The WI has a residential adult education centre of its own, Denman College in Oxfordshire, providing courses for about 6,000 students a year, and has now joined the campaign, urging its membership to put pressure on ministers and local MPs.
With its membership of 207,000 women, the WI gained a reputation for being the scourge of politicians after its infamous slow handclap on the then Prime Minister Tony Blair during a speech to its annual conference.
Ms Bond told Mr Cable that cuts would mean courses being cancelled, fee hikes and the closure of some providers.
"As well as direct educational benefit to individual learners, adult education involves people in community activities, raises aspirations within families and helps people to adapt better to economic and social change," she said.
"Its role in society is particularly important at times of recession and preparation for economic recovery. It is especially important to protect the strong community networks that exist around adult education. It would be very difficult to replace these practical and effective partnerships if they are broken down during this challenging period when they are needed more than ever."
A relatively small investment in adult education has a "disproportionately large" effect in communities all over the country and assisting in the work of many government departments, from helping people stay healthy to preparing them for work, Ms Bond said.
- Original headline: Women's Institute wades in to save adult education