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WI combats course cuts

The might of the Women's Institute is being unleashed in a bid to stop the Government axing an estimated 300,000 adult education places.

The WI is urging its 215,000 members to back a petition organised by the Association of Colleges against cuts in funding for adult learning. It is also asking them to write to their local MPs in protest.

It says courses traditionally taken by its members, such as those involving arts and crafts and leisure, will be among those hardest hit by the funding cuts.

The WI hopes for a repeat of its famous victory of the early 1990s, when it took on the Government over plans to add VAT to leisure courses at colleges.

The WI was victorious that time round. John Major's Conservative government was deluged with so many letters of protest that it backed down.

Jennifer Adshead, the head of education and training for the National Federation of Women's Institutes, said: "We are galvanising support against these cuts. There is certainly a lot of anger among our members.

"We are receiving letters of dismay from members who are turning up at their local colleges to find that courses they planned to take simply are not running.

"People may denigrate courses such as flower arranging or quilting and patchworking. But they often build confidence that leads to vocational qualifications and employment. It is very short-sighted to cut such provision."

The AoC hopes to collect 20,000 more signatures for its petition protesting about cuts in courses for adult learners as a new term opens.

Almost 30,000 signatures have already been collected, 86 per cent of them from people aged over 19.

It calls on the Government to set an early date for closure of the gap with schools, estimated at 13 per cent in a report published in July by the Learning and Skills Development Agency.

Courses being cut include lessons for disabled adults, IT courses, decorating, music and evening A-level classes.

The AoC fears colleges will be in the line of fire from would-be students when adults discover this month that their courses have been axed or the fees increased.

Lisa Dubow, the AoC's campaigns officer, said: "This petition will be helpful in informing students about why these cuts are happening. It also provides them with a means of articulating their concern."

Ian Pryce, principal of Bedford college, said his college's prospectus went out before the full extent of the funding cuts for adult courses were revealed, detailing a 14 per cent cut, representing 1,500 adult places on courses.

He said: "We intend to run the courses advertised in the prospectus from September, but we know the cuts are going to bite later in the year.

"We have always been a high-fee college compared to our neighbours. We already charge the market rate, so we don't have much room to increase fees. The only alternative will be to cut courses later in the year."

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