Fears have been raised that people with learning disabilities and older people will lose out on education and training after the government announced cuts to funding for courses not leading to qualifications.
The skills investment strategy for 2010-11, published this week, unveiled plans to cut the budget for so-called “developmental learning” from £331m to £187m, with the number of students benefiting expected to fall from 583,000 this year to 213,000 in 2010-11.
Developmental learning courses are often taken by people with learning disabilities and older people.
The strategy also said the number of people benefiting from the adult safeguarded learning budget, which funds informal courses for disadvantaged groups, would fall from 605,000 to 585,000, though the annual budget will remain at £210m.
Alastair Thomson, principal advocacy officer at the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), which works to promote adult learning, said: “We realise that times are tough but this is hitting learners disproportionately.”
He added: “We accept that savings may have to be made but we expect the government to be true to its word in protecting the most vulnerable who may have left the labour-market or be some distance from it. The full implications of this strategy need to be thought through. We’ll be examining these figures very closely indeed.”
David Congdon, head of campaigns and policy for Mencap, said it was not immediately clear how people with learning disabilities would be affected, but the reduction in the developmental learning budget would be a big hit.
He added: “What we don’t know is whether some of the other changes will mitigate this to some degree but I suspect people will miss out. That’s based on previous experience and that from next year a large amount of funding in this area is moving to local authorities and is not ring fenced.”
However, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which produced the strategy, said investing in further education and skills training for people with learning difficulties or disabilities remained a priority.
A BIS spokesperson said: “We have seen over the last few years that many courses could more sensibly be delivered through other budgets [other than the developmental learning budget] – such as a the [adult safeguarded learning budget], and that budget is being maintained at £210 million for 2010/11 academic year.”
He added that other courses previously funded through the developmental learning budget should now be met through the foundation learning budget, which covers basic skills training.