A decision to cut funding to students studying for second degrees or equivalent higher education qualifications could prove "a catastrophic blow" to lifelong learning departments, forcing centres around the country to close, it was warned this week.
Hitting out during the Labour Party conference, the Universities Association for Lifelong Learning said its members feared the change could be "the final nail in the coffin" for lifelong learning in England, at a time when the Government was claiming it wanted mass expansion of university evening classes, weekend courses and part-time degrees.
Leni Oglesby, the association's secretary, and deputy vice- chancellor of Teesside University, said: "If the effect of the withdrawal of funding is as damaging as [we] believe, then there simply won't be the infrastructure and expertise to offer this expanded provision for adults."
Members of the Higher Education Funding Council for England board have met to discuss how to take forward a controversial decision by the Government to cut £100 million in funding for people taking second degrees.
Bill Rammell, the Minister for Higher Education, told The Times Higher that a number of key subjects could be exempt including medicine, dentistry, veterinary science, architecture, landscape management, town planning, teaching and training for healthcare professionals.
The Government says it is fairer to spend the money on getting more students to university for the first time and it wants more businesses to fund their employees to progress to higher education.
But Brenda Gourley, vice- chancellor of the Open University, said employers could not be expected to fund the majority of personal and professional development and most institutions would simply have to charge higher fees.
John Rushforth, the University of the West of England's deputy vice-chancellor and former director of Hefce, said: "This must not contradict the aims of lifelong learning... and the flexible workforce needs of a modern economy."