Adults Leaners' Week start tomorrow amid doubts about the government's lifelong learning project.
The highlights of the National Learners Week "celebration" are the awards, which will be presented by education secretary David Blunkett on May 20. They recognise individual achievement and excellence in provision. There are to be 100 individual winners and 11 awards for organisations.
Individual Learners' Awards Donna Mulholland, one of the 100 individual winners, was supposed to go to university 17 years ago when she was 18 and had three A levels, but she fell in love. "I got married," she said.
After two children, the marriage turned violent and in 1992 she fled to a women's refuge with a suitcase and children in tow. She stayed for seven months before finding a flat. She soon wanted to return to learning.
"I just could not continue to live on benefit," she said. "I went to visit Bournemouth University but I was frightened to death by all the young people. Then I saw an ad in the paper about an access to business course at Bournemouth College."
The access course led to a degree course at Southampton Institute, in accountancy and law, which she passed with a 2:2 in 1997, despite her "nightmare over child care" and two part-time jobs - one at the checkout at Tesco's, and a Saturday job in a local accounting firm. Now she is a trainee accountant and goes back to Southampton Institute one day a week.
After paying after-school care for her children, aged seven and ten, rent and council tax, "I'm about Pounds 3 a week better-off now than I was on benefit or at university," she said. On Mondays she does not get home until 10.30pm. Her children's after-school club is also closing. "The whole thing has been a nightmare," she said. "But now I am one rung up on the ladder and have a degree that no one can take away. I hope to specialise in management accountancy and one day be a financial director."
New Learning Opportunities Award: Mass redundancies in the early 1990s cut a 3,000-strong workforce at British Aerospace Regional Aircraft by almost half, leaving staff at the Woodford site and de-motivated.
A staff attitudes survey in 1996 found that workers had little faith in their employers' commitment to education and training. Staff complained they had few opportunities.
British Aerospace's response was to set up a Learning and Development Centre in partnership with Stockport College's Flexible Learning Services division. This week the initiative was one of the 11 "highly commended" in the Adult Learners' Week New Learning Opportunities Awards.
In 1997, over 75 per cent of staff successfully completed programmes, taking courses ranging from lunch-time French to higher education courses at local universities.
Mary Devall, from the DFEE, said: "Getting people back into learning - many of whom have not participated since leaving school - is at the heart of the concept of lifelong learning.
The BAe Learning and Development Centre demonstrates the benefit of initiative, partnership and sheer commitment on widening participation."
The BAe staff are now facing further opportunities under the company's Virtual University, launched with a pledge of a Pounds 2 billion investment earlier this month.