Concern over adult retraining courses

By Alex Stevenson

Those who have lost their jobs because of the recession and looking to reskill are facing a decline in the number of available courses because of the government’s policies, it has been claimed.

University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Sally Hunt blamed a lack of funding commitment for the problem, which is becoming increasingly important as unemployment rises and the recession continues to bite.

The UCU says rising charges and course cutbacks have resulted in two million learners’ places being lost from further and adult education in England since 2005.

And over 1.4 million places have been lost in the last two years because of cuts and fee rises.

“We’ve had whole areas of the country where courses have disappeared,” Ms Hunt told politics.co.uk.

“A course works on the numbers of students who they have in there. Take away the numbers who are coming into reskill and it’s actually undermined courses in different parts of the country.”

The government’s Train to Gain programme, which is aimed at helping individuals “invest in skills” through retraining, has attracted support from unions.

But Ms Hunt believes an “increasingly narrowing funding agenda” has been attached to that which has led to courses being cut.

The decision to scrap the subsidy for ELQs – those reskilling by taking a second degree – has also had an impact, she argued. The UCU estimates it will cost a student taking a second degree an average of around £8,000 a year more than it would have done as a result.

“When you put in place what the government is saying about how we’ve got to make sure we’ve got a flexible workforce, and find different ways of staying in employment, that’s become completely ludicrous,” Ms Hunt added.

A Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills spokesperson told politics.co.uk: “This government is committed to ensuring that all of our people have the opportunity to improve their skills, whether that’s at university, college or in the workplace.

“Train to Gain works. A recent survey showed that 43 per cent of people who have completed a course reported that they had received a pay rise, and 30 per cent reported a promotion.

“It is also right that funding for university students should be targeted at those who have not studied for a first degree.

“But over £200 million will continue to support ELQ students studying strategically important subjects. That is why we believe that we have struck the right balance between creating opportunities for first time students and those who need to return to study.”