Page last updated at 00:54 GMT, Monday, 22 March 2010

Further education colleges plea for Budget leniency

The AoC says many courses in vocational skills are at risk

Further education colleges in England are calling on Chancellor Alistair Darling to protect adult students from cuts in his budget on Wednesday.

The colleges say they face a £200m cut in funding for adults, and that courses could close as a result.

Institutions face an average budget cut of 16% for adult learning, suggests a survey by the Association of Colleges.

The government says it will spend more than £3.5bn on further education and skills in 2010-11.

That figure will help an estimated 3.4 million adults receive relevant training, officials say.

Forty-three of the 162 colleges surveyed by the association said their budgets for adult learning were being cut by 25% in the next academic year.

The group says the cuts could lead to course closures and hundreds of students being turned away.

It says courses affected include brick-laying, catering and plumbing, as well as basic literacy and numeracy and A-levels and GCSEs for adults.

Cutting courses that are so essential to our recovery is a false economy
Julian Gravatt, Association of Colleges

Julian Gravatt, Association of Colleges assistant chief executive, said: "We are calling on the chancellor to help protect these courses and the students they serve.

"We know that the Treasury is under significant pressure to further curtail public spending, but cutting courses that are so essential to our recovery is a false economy."

The government is committed to making £340m of efficiency savings across further education and skills for the financial year 2010-11.

In a Skills Strategy document released in November, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said despite these "efficiencies", investment in adult skills participation would increase by 3%.

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But further education colleges would need to deliver better value for money and realise efficiencies, he said, "to continue to deliver high quality training to meet the needs of learners and employers at a time when public finances are under pressure".

Value for money

Government investment in colleges for post-16 learning increased by 57% in real terms between 1997 and 2008, officials say.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "It is more important than ever before that our investment in skills is smart and we must focus on improving value for money by purchasing only high quality training and by maximising the contribution towards training from businesses and individuals where they see the highest private returns.

"Over £3.5bn funding for further education and skills in 2010-11 will support an estimated 3.4 million adults accessing high quality, relevant training, to help them into sustainable employment, and to support the current workforce as they develop skills for future growth.

"As recognised in the Association of Colleges report, funding through the Adult Learner Responsive budget is only part of the overall public income that colleges receive."

Alan Tuckett, chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, has urged the Chancellor to recognise the importance of adult students.

"In a society facing the challenge of an ageing demography, keeping and skilling older people at work is as important as offering chances to young people. We need to create a knowledge-based economy where the capacity to learn is critical, and given the government's ambitions for further and higher education, these short-sighted cuts beggar belief."

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