Universities are closing or reviewing the future of their lifelong learning departments, blaming the "progressive withdrawal" of government funding for adult education classes.
This week, the University of Manchester confirmed it would shut its Courses for the Public programme, while the University of Reading announced a review of its School of Continuing Education, after being hit by the government funding rule for equivalent or lower-level qualifications (ELQs).
A petition against the Manchester closure says the decision is "the latest in a long line of closures of continuing education provision for adults and public programmes all over the country" and "reflects a disturbing trend for the exclusion of the ... public from universities".
The Manchester branch of the University and College Union also condemned the move, which will see courses stop this summer.
A spokesman for Manchester said the decision "was not taken lightly", but was "an inevitable consequence of decline in student demand ... and the progressive withdrawal over recent years of government funding for this activity".
He said the programme was making a loss and there was no income stream other than fees to support it, which was "clearly unsustainable".
The university said the decision would not lead to any redundancies and that Manchester would continue to offer opportunities to the local community, including language courses, concerts, poetry readings, public lectures, day schools and seminars.
Meanwhile, a statement from Reading says a review of its School of Continuing Education is under way.
It says Reading has suffered a 69 per cent reduction in "other recurrent teaching grants" for 2009-10, largely as a result of a decrease in transitional funding for ELQ students, and it is reviewing how it can fill the funding gap.
When the Government's ELQ decision was announced in 2007, the Universities Association for Lifelong Learning warned the policy could prove "a catastrophic blow" to lifelong learning departments.