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Letter: VOICE OF THE NORTH - Adult learning has been funded since 1924. Now it is at crisis point.

Byline: Nigel Todd

IT'S autumn again. A time when thoughts often turn to contemplating new starts in education, and not just for children and teenage students.

Adult learning is booming. Most of this growth has been driven by a perceived economic need for a more skilled and qualified workforce and most of the money has followed that objective.

The downside is that broad adult education has been an unintended victim of a funding shift within the overall growth.

We've got used to the idea that learning to satisfy an interest and for the joy of learning is generally available when we want it.

We expect that courses on everything from arts and languages, philosophy and literature, history and crafts, music and computers, Northumberland stick dressing and dry stone walling, and much more, will be readily on offer.

A good deal of it is still there in the North East - thanks to the determination of several local authorities, the Workers' Educational Association, Sunderland University's Centre for Lifelong Learning, U3A and some surviving voluntary adult education centres - but it often comes with new strings.

Fees are higher, and with some providers you may have to sign up for a qualification and therefore an exam, a test or an assessment that you see little point in doing.

In many other parts of the country, broad adult learning has been vanishing as a result of funding changes, despite a Government funding safeguard of pounds 210m a year for non-vocational courses.

Depressingly, more than a million adults have 'disappeared' from adult education courses in the past two years.

It's a crisis. We've reached a turning point where broad adult education, seen as an essential element of civilised life, and attracting comprehensive financial support by governments since at least 1924, may be literally erased from serious public funding.

The adult education world has not taken this lying down!

Here in the North East, we've led the way through the activities of the North East Right to Learn Campaign.

The campaign, driven by adult learners, presented a large petition to the Minister for the North East, Nick Brown (who also signed it himself!), calling for fair funding for adult liberal education.

They also produced a detailed response to a Government consultation on the future of informal adult learning.

Nationally, a Campaign for Lifelong Learning will be launched by more than 30 organisations at a meeting in London on September 30 and this will lobby the political parties and Government to reinstate broad adult education as a firm commitment.

To be fair, John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, launched a national consultation on the future of adult learning earlier this year, producing more than 4,000 responses from providers and adult learners.

A response from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills is now imminent. So will the Government signal a new dawn or a last hurrah?

Nigel Todd, North East regional director,

Workers' Educational Association
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Title Annotation:Letters
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 16, 2008
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