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Afghan doctor will petition Tony Blair to save ESOL English language courses

23 May 2007 | last updated: 14 December 2015

In Adult Learning Week, a female Afghan doctor, Malalai Formouli, will be among teachers and students visiting Downing Street tomorrow to deliver a 12,000 signature petition to the prime minister, Tony Blair.

The petition call on the government to withdraw plans to limit access to free courses in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). The petition, signed by over 12,000 people, has been organised by UCU as part of a national 'Save ESOL' campaign to dissuade the government from reducing entitlement to free ESOL courses. Also handing in the petition will be UCU joint general secretary Paul Mackney, and Ellie Russell, vice president of NUS.

Malalai Formouli needs further English language training before she can practise medicine in the UK. She says she is supporting the Save ESOL campaign because many refugees and immigrants are professionals who could contribute more to the UK if language training provision was more accessible. Malalai is a medical doctor from Afghanistan who trained at the Medical Faculty at Kabul University from 1983-1988 and having fled as a refugee to Pakistan she worked in a hospital for refugees in Peshawar for 8 years. She is studying at London Metropolitan University on a specialist course for refugees. There is very little suitable advanced ESOL provision for her in FE and the IELTS (advanced language course) is expensive. She currently works voluntarily as a part-time teacher in a supplementary school.

Critics of the government's plans say that most potential students who will be deterred by fees are among vulnerable social groups including low income women, settled immigrant families and low income migrant workers.

Changes in government funding for ESOL and other adult education courses has also caused many colleges to close non-advanced ESOL courses. In London, the potential impact is so grave that the Mayor of London has arranged emergency funding of £15 million for one year to assist affected colleges. Other cities still face course cuts and growing waiting lists for ESOL courses.

Paul Mackney said: 'The Save ESOL campaign is not going away. In Adult Learning Week it is shameful that thousands of adults are currently being driven from learning instead of assisted into it. ESOL classes bring great benefits to the economy, to social cohesion and to the lives of thousands of people.'

The Save ESOL campaign will be among matters considered at next week's annual Congress of UCU, in Bournemouth.