Adult learners are being warned they will find it harder to get onto courses because of college funding pressures.
Funding for young learners' courses gets priority
Saturday marked the start of the 14th annual Adult Learners' Week, with events planned across the UK.
The government says colleges are getting more money and adult learning is important but not the main priority.
Colleges say competing government initiatives, such as the focus on 16-19 education, divert funds from adult learning, cutting those courses.
John Brennan, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said Education Secretary Ruth Kelly was presiding over a "funding shambles".
Up to 200,000 places on adult education courses had been axed for this year, with more widespread cuts predicted in 2006.
Ruth Kelly said it was important to set priorities
But Ms Kelly denied there was a funding crisis and suggested colleges could charge higher course fees.
It was "absolutely right" to focus on 16 to 19-year-olds, adults without basic skills and those without qualifications.
"It's right for us to establish clear priorities," she said. "Overall funding has gone up by a billion over the last few years"
The AoC said: "The cuts arise because the government has not put enough money into the system to meet all its priorities."
Most colleges had just received their financial allocations for next year, three months before their main enrolment period.
The National Institute for Adult Continuing Education's senior policy officer, Alastair Thomson, said: "Over the next four years there's going to be an increase in the numbers of 16 to 19-year-olds and more of them will stay on in education.
"But unless additional money flows in, the price of this welcome success with young people will be paid for at the expense of adult learning opportunities."
The Department for Education and Skills said the priorities were a place for every young person, and a focus on adults without basic work skills, in that order.
"It is inevitable that in some cases this will mean redirecting public funding away from adult provision," a spokesman said.
Shadow Education Secretary David Cameron said: "Just a few weeks ago Labour's manifesto told us they believed further education was 'vital' to lifelong learning.
But the government had "systematically neglected adult education", he added.