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Taking action in higher education

Let adults learn, says thirty-two strong coalition

4 December 2006 | last updated: 14 December 2015

Failure to support adults to learn will have serious social and economic consequences warns a coalition of thirty-two organisations, including UCU, today.

The government's priorities for post-16 education mean that opportunities for adults to learn are being cut dramatically. The number of people in learning after 19 has fallen by 14% - 200,000 people - in two years. Participation by over 60s in particular has fallen by nearly 25%; half a million college places are being lost; one million are threatened and it is vulnerable, disadvantaged adults who are missing out on opportunities to build new skills and gain qualifications. Crisis: Fighting for hope for homeless people : This link opens in a new window

The coalition will stress that learning benefits everyone at each stage of their lives, regardless of previous achievements. Practical skills help homeless people who have no qualifications at all to manage their tenancies. Learning for pleasure promotes independence in old age, for example, delaying or offsetting the onset of Alzheimer's. In addition, evidence shows that education and training can have a big impact on reducing offending rates.

Alan Tuckett, Director of NIACE, said: 'Adult learning makes a difference - to the economy of course, to health, well-being, confidence and to our ability to help our children. We cut opportunities at our peril.'

Next week Lord Leitch will be publishing his vision of the skills and training essential for the economic and social health of the UK. In advance of his report, a coalition of thirty-two organisations from across the adult learning and voluntary sectors is warning the chancellor, Gordon Brown, that failure to fund adult learning for all, irrespective of age, social background and particularly those adults with poor educational attainment, will have serious social and economic consequences.

Leslie Morphy, chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis, said: 'The government says it wants to help more people to learn. But the reality is very different. Courses are closing, teachers are being made redundant and the focus on adults achieving vocational qualifications is ignoring what can be achieved through wider learning. Every day we see how giving people the opportunity to learn, try a new activity or develop a skill in the right setting can change their lives. We could do so much more, but the opportunities to do so are being cut back.'

The wider benefits of learning for those most in need actually help the government deliver its agendas on homelessness, health, in particular mental health, criminal justice, drug and alcohol misuse, independence in older age and social inclusion. If the government is ever to meet its target of getting 2.3 million people off benefits and back into work, which is costing the tax payer £64billion each year, then it needs to encourage people to take up learning opportunities at a pace and time that suits them, not cut budgets which means those who have most to gain are losing out.

Adults in particular older people, ethnic minorities, homeless people, ex-offenders and people with disabilities, often learn best in voluntary or community settings, attending short and informal courses on a wide range of subjects. Giving colleges and other providers more freedom to develop courses that respond to learners' needs and get them interested in further learning has been shown to work. However, the focus on increasing the numbers of adult learners with vocational qualifications equivalent to five GCSEs means that these courses are being cut.

Further education colleges and the voluntary sector are willing to work together to jointly deliver education opportunities for the most disadvantaged. However, they need the support and resources to do so.

Tricia Hartley, Joint Chief Executive of the Campaign for Learning said: 'Learning is the key to breaking the cycles of poverty and disadvantage. However, people cannot learn in isolation. Investment in learning and skills must take account of the support services that people need while they are learning. Providers are often willing to deliver the flexible courses that meet the needs of vulnerable groups but find that funding streams for initial engagement are limited. It is critical that engaging and flexible routes into learning are defended to ensure appropriate levels of long-term support, particularly for the most vulnerable individuals.'

The coalition is calling on the government to build on its commitment to provide education to all by:

  • setting targets to increase participation in learning, year-on-year, across each and every age range, particularly amongst disadvantaged adults;
  • making a dedicated adult learning budget available to colleges and other providers including voluntary organisations which are committed to delivering high quality learning opportunities to disadvantaged learners.

Lord Leitch said in his Interim Report that the failure to improve the skills of the low skilled 'exacerbates social deprivation including poverty, poor health and crime'. The coalition endorses this view, and urges the chancellor in responding to the Leitch Review to take up the coalition's recommendations.

List of signatories on the letter to the chancellor of the exchequer

Age Concern

Association of Teachers and Lecturers

Campaign for Learning

Central Saint Martin College of Art and Design

City Lit


Educational Centres Association

Emmaus Projects



Homeless Link

The Mary Ward Settlement


Morley College


National Extension Institute

National Institute of Adult Continuing Education

National Union of Students

Northern Learning Trust

Open University

Race on the Agenda

Red Kite Learning

Redbridge College

Ruskin College

St Mungo's


Southend Adult Community College



National Federation of Women's Institutes

Workers' Educational Association

Working Men's College Corporation

For further media information, please contact Phil Power at Crisis on 020 7426 3832 or Stuart Barber on 020 7426 3831 or 07973 372 587 (out of hours).