A thousand lecturers and students gathered at parliament at the end of February to lobby MPs over plans to restrict access to free English language courses.
Under government proposals asylum seekers over the age of 19 will no longer be entitled to free ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) lessons.
From September, this entitlement will be restricted to young people and those given permanent leave to remain in the UK who are receiving unemployment or income-based benefits. Other migrant students will be required to pay up to half the cost of their courses.
More than 140 MPs have signed a early day motion calling for a policy rethink. By the government’s own admission, up to half-a-million adult learners risk losing their courses as a result of its new priorities for post-16 education. At the same time, thousands of learners face the prospect of paying large fee increases for their courses.
A sharp turn in focus towards 16-19 year-olds has led to a 3% drop in the funding for post-19 Adult Education. Job losses, course closures and fee increases, which began in 2006, are gathering pace in 2007.
Adult education courses are currently subsidised to the tune of 72.5% (learners, or employers, pay 27.5% of the costs). But the government has issued fees guidance to colleges instructing them to gradually decrease their subsidy to 50% by 2010.