Part-time adult learners face a nationwide lottery when it comes to how much colleges charge for courses, a report has shown.
A survey of fees carried out by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education shows a patchy picture around the country, particularly concerning fees concessions.
Fiona Aldridge, author of the report, said: "Variations in concessionary policies affect people's opportunities to learn, especially those who are disadvantaged through age, disability or income."
The survey found that, on average, colleges charge less than local authorities for vocational courses but more for non-vocational courses. The fees for both sets of courses have increased more in local authorities than in colleges.
More than half the colleges in the survey said their fees had increased over the past year in line with inflation, while 11 per cent reported above inflation increases in response to a significant reduction in their local education authority grant.
The lowest fees were in Wales and the metropolitan boroughs.
The survey found that telephone payments by credit cards had greatly increased over the year, easing the administrative burden but reducing contact time with learners who may be at risk of dropping out.
Course providers often had different concessionary rates, with the most generous tending to be given to the unemployed, those on means-tested benefits and people with learning difficulties.
The survey found a trend away from giving concessions to certain groups of people and towards using low income as a criterion for concessions.