Funding rates for adult learners must be raised to the same level as 16 to 19-year-olds to ensure courses are viable to deliver, the Association of Colleges has said.

Ahead of tomorrow’s spending review, the membership organisation has published research that claims the government’s flagship national skills fund will “fail” unless more money is pumped into the sector.

Budgets for adult skills programmes were cut by 40 per cent in the first half of the last decade and have been fixed in cash terms since then despite inflation, while funding for 16 to 19 programmes “have been funded at a higher rate”.

The AoC looked at the development of “15 course contribution models for 15 different subjects” and compared the cost of delivering them against the funding rates offered via the adult education budget.

The association found that the current funding level in all the adult courses sampled were “not viable, even at the maximum class size”. It said none of the courses generated a benchmark 50 per cent contribution to income after teaching costs that is needed to avoid a loss.

The AoC says the simplest way to ensure adult courses are viable is to “pay a rate equitable to that of 16 to 19 funding and implement a high value premium”.

The base rate for 16 to 19 funding was increased from £4,000 to £4,188 per learner this year and the government also offers those a £400 ‘High Value Courses Premium’ (HVCP) uplift for that age group in subjects such as engineering, manufacturing technologies, transport operations and maintenance, building and construction, and ICT.

Prime minister Boris Johnson recently announced a Lifetime Skills Guarantee that will include extending full funding for a first level 3 qualification to adults over the age of 23. The AoC said this means that more activity will be fully funded, “heightening the importance that funding rates are sufficient to cover necessary costs”.

AoC chief executive David Hughes said: “Today’s findings show that thousands of adults who find themselves out of work and require retraining are at risk of being left behind. Adult education has been neglected in education policy for too long.

“The government’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee extending full funding for a first Level 3 qualification to adults over the age of 23 was a welcome step but our analysis shows that without a funding rate increase, those ambitions will not be achieved.”

He added that the courses needed to train key workers and productive sectors that will “get the country moving again simply cost too much to deliver compared with current rates” and a “failure to act” will leave businesses “without skilled workers and people in long-term unemployment and poverty”.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are making sure our FE sector has the funding and support it needs to give all learners the skills they need to succeed.

“Through our ambitious new £2.5 billion national skills fund, we will make sure more adults can retrain and upskill so we can unlock even more potential and level up opportunities across the country.

“We are engaging closely with the FE sector and wider industry as we continue to develop our plans for the national skills fund and will launch a public consultation in due course.”

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