Merger hands adult learning 'viable future' Minister backs WEA Cymru plan.
A NEW adult education body will increase its turnover to PS10m after the merger of Workers' Educational Associations in Wales.
The newly formed WEA Cymru takes over the crisis-hit Coleg Harlech and WEA North Wales operation, which was forced to sell off buildings and art work after a near-PS1m budget shortfall was revealed.
The aim now is to provide adult community and workplace learning for 14,000 people across Wales, with a target to hit 21,000 during this financial year.
Welsh education minister Huw Lewis yesterday endorsed the merger which was 'signed off' on Friday after long and difficult talks between the two governing bodies.
The newly established WEA Cymru is the largest provider of adult community education in Wales.
Jon Parry, former chair of WEA North Wales, told the launch ceremony in Cardiff that the road to merger had 'not been as smooth' as it should but they should be 'doubly grateful to have arrived'.
Both Coleg Harlech and WEA North Wales had an international reputation in adult education: the new body would enhance that as a 'new bridge across Wales'.
The minister said that the merger created a viable all Wales adult education and skills organisation with the strength of the internationally recognised WEA brand.
"The key aim of the merger has always been to secure the long term viability and future development of adult learning in Wales," he said.
The new body offered opportunities for greater efficiency and improved value for money, he said.
Rob Humphreys, director of the Open University in Wales, will chair the new governing body. He said: "Adult learning has never been more necessary in my view. I expect this organisation to hit the ground running. This organisation is deeply committed to reaching the hardest to reach, the people who really matter in all of this. This is a time to look forward not back."
He called for innovation in the way learning is delivered, using new technologies, skills for employment, for life and health and well being, but also subjects like philosophy, music and the arts and citizenship.
New chief executive of WEA Cymru Maggi Dawson said: "Our focus remains on providing second chance learning to adults in a community or workplace setting." The voluntary WEA movement has been delivering adult community learning and workplace learning in Wales since 1907.
The merger would allow a wider curriculum, reaching more communities, reduced management costs and economies of scale, a stronger Welsh language ethos, and more influence on the emerging shape of all post 16 community and workplace learning.
Ms Dawson said: "Staff have been working together over the past year to ensure that we implement the best practice to be found in both organisations. We will be much stronger financially, which will enable us to influence the future of adult community learning in Wales."
Coleg Harlech's accounts for the year ended July 31 2012 revealed assets shrunk from PS3,028,000 in 2011 to PS328,000.
The WEA (North Wales), employed 122 people, including 71 teachers, with 28 full-time students in 2011-12 and 15,940 part-time. Between April and July this year, 21 staff left, some 19 were compulsory redundancies.
Most of the funding comes as grants from the Welsh Government and the Department of Further Education and Skills.
Education minister Huw Lewis, left, has endorsed a merger between Coleg Harlech, above, and WEA North Wales to form a new adult education body