Adult learning courses set to be axed

ADULT students in Suffolk were dealt a massive blow last night after it emerged some courses in the county may be axed and fees hiked in others.More than 31,000 mature students are presently enrolled on further education courses in Suffolk.

ADULT students in Suffolk were dealt a massive blow last night after it emerged some courses in the county may be axed and fees hiked in others.

More than 31,000 mature students are presently enrolled on further education courses in Suffolk.

But the current level of courses on offer is now being reviewed after the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) announced a £1.9million cut in funding for adult further education this year.

This is likely to result in steeper fees on some adult courses and increased class sizes to ensure learning programs are cost effective.

The LSC said a growth in the number of students in priority areas - those aged between 16 and 18 or people signing up for core subjects such as numeracy and literacy – had meant there was less available for adult learners.

This means the funding available for those aged 19 and above will fall from £15.6m in 2004-5 to £13.7m for 2005-6.

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Nick Foster, executive director of the Learning and Skills Council, said: "There has been a terrific growth in people trying to improve language and literacy skills so the total number of money available cannot cover absolutely everything so it has to be sorted according to priority.

"It will swallow up more money than it has in the past because there are increases in those doing these range of courses.

"There are increases (in funding) but it is not keeping pace with the demand so effectively there will be less money for some of the courses funded for adults."

Professor Dave Muller, principal of Suffolk College, in Ipswich, said the college was trying to retain as many courses as possible but some would be withdrawn.

"We will have to increase fees certainly to individuals and employers and we will probably have to have larger class sizes to make the courses more cost effective. If we can get 12 to 15 it will make a big difference," he said.

"We believe we will have to withdraw some classes and are yet to decide these. We will announce these next week but they will be to a minimum.

"We enrol 6,000 further education adults. I do not envisage that being drastically cut."

Martyn Wagner, assistant principal of West Suffolk College, said it provides adult education in about 100 centres across the west Suffolk area, including village halls, its own learning centres in each of the market towns and the college site.

The cut in funding would mean the college would have to look at providing fewer courses with more students, he added.

He said: "The priority areas are not affected at all. It's adult education and low-level IT.

"The courses that are not viable with small numbers will be cut as we can only run courses with viable numbers. That will be one measure that we will be looking at.

"We have got course fees and there will be higher fees for some adult education courses.

"What might happen is that we have to refer students to another course at our other centres or to the other Suffolk colleges, like Otley College or Suffolk College."

Ros Pugh, vice principal of Lowestoft College, which is promoting adult learning next week, said: "We are not cutting the amount of students we are offering places to. We are quite different to other providers."

Jack Thain, chairman of Suffolk Pensioners' Association, said: "The Government is determined to get people working longer to ease the situation in the country at the moment and yet they will be denying them further training."

There was good news, however, with the LSC announcing funding for all four of Suffolk's colleges had increased from £25.7m in 2002-3 to £37.2m in 2005-6 – an increase of 45% in four years.

This funding mainly covers programmes that lead to a qualification for 16-18- year-olds, the Skills for Life courses providing language, numeracy and literacy skills, and company-based or apprenticeship programs for 16-21- years-olds.

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