"Severe cuts" are taking place to continuing education courses across the country, the professional body for lifelong learning in higher education has warned.
As the Universities Association for Lifelong Learning (UALL) held its annual conference in Brighton, more universities confirmed course closures as a result of the Government's decision to stop the funding of students taking second qualifications at an equal or lower level to those they already hold (ELQs).
City University London is likely to close the languages, arts and creative writing courses offered by its Centre for Adult Education (CAE). The local branch of the University and College Union said the move could affect as many as 100 jobs.
The university said it had carried out an analysis that showed that the department could suffer a shortfall of more than £750,000 as a result of the funding change.
"The information that we have at the moment is that the existing provision within the CAE for languages, arts and creative writing is unlikely to be viable, and that these courses will be withdrawn at the end of the current academic year (2008-09).
"However, we are exploring all avenues for alternative funding or organisation to preserve courses that are viable," a statement on the university's website says.
Bucks New University has withdrawn its combined studies programme of adult learning modules, while Thames Valley University is reviewing its Associate Student Scheme, which allows people to study degree-level "taster" modules.
Ian Tunbridge, TVU's deputy vice-chancellor, said: "This is highly regrettable as many modules are taken in professional areas that give students the opportunity to enhance their skills and gain new knowledge to help keep them in employment.
"The university is seeking to partially remedy this issue via the creation of new flexible foundation degrees, but it firmly believes that there will be people facing redundancy who will be disadvantaged as a result of the ELQ regulations."
Lancaster University said it was phasing out its Open Studies Programme, with the exception of its Languages for All Programme, following a review last year.
The University of Bath said that it had scaled back its adult education provision because two thirds of the classes offered failed to cover the costs of hiring tutors.
In the past three weeks, the universities of Manchester, Bristol and Reading have announced that they will cut lifelong learning provision.
Jackie Dunne, honorary secretary of the UALL, said the ELQ rule was the latest in a series of funding policies that disadvantaged people wanting to study part time.
"The withdrawal of funding for equivalent or lower qualifications has further exacerbated inequity of treatment of part-time students, and some of our member universities are experiencing reviews that are resulting in severe cuts to their lifelong learning programmes and public courses," she said.
She added that the Government's ELQ policy "flies in the face" of efforts to promote lifelong learning and to provide flexible access to higher education.
"It is precisely those students needing to support career change to re-skill or those seeking a second chance who will be hit (by the policies)."
DENHAM PUTS £20M BEHIND THE BAR FOR INFORMAL CLASSES
In stark contrast to the cuts to lifelong learning provision in universities, the Government has announced plans in a White Paper to "inspire and increase opportunities for learning for pleasure".
The paper, which was launched by John Denham, the Universities Secretary, this week, pledges support for people who want to organise their own groups and classes, such as reading groups, with £20 million to be made available to develop new adult learning opportunities.
The Government's stated aim is to encourage new classes to open in public and private buildings such as "pubs, shops, cafes and churches".