Further education (FE) colleges are not only a place for 16 to 19-year-olds to gain qualifications - many adults also choose to take a range of part-time, professional and undergraduate courses at these institutions to progress their career

According to the Association of Colleges (AoC), in 2020/21 £815million was spent on adult education. They reported that nearly one million adults aged 19 and over currently choose to study or train across England's 228 colleges.

It was also revealed that 46,000 of these college students are aged 60 and over, showing that age is no barrier to learning and achieving a qualification.

Adult and community education (ACE) providers

Council-run or overseen learning services known as adult and community education (ACE) providers play a key role in local communities in supporting adults as they enter, return or progress in work. You'll find learning centres based in most towns and cities.

For example, Tameside Adult and Community Education (TACE) has partnered with Tameside College to provide adult learning options in core areas such as English, maths and IT, as well as English language courses and programmes with the aim of improving people's employability.

ACE providers often work in partnership with local businesses to include training and apprenticeships as part of their service offering.

See your local authority website for what's available in your area.

Institutes for adult learning (IAL)

Of the 270 colleges in the UK, at least ten can be described as specialist designated colleges or institutes for adult learning (IAL). They currently support more than 130,000 adult learners aged 19 and over, with many having little or no prior qualifications and coming from disadvantaged communities.

These include:

In addition to local centres, IALs can also provide hundreds of online courses for those living further away.

Workers' Education Association (WEA)

The Workers' Educational Association (WEA), the UK's largest voluntary sector provider of adult education in England and Scotland deliver accessible adult learning courses both online and in person.

Find out what's available in your area at WEA - Find a course.

Adult learning courses

While adults can choose from a range of programmes at college, the following subjects and pathways are frequently on offer in adult education settings:

  • Access to Higher Education - For those without A-levels, this one-year, part-time diploma provides an alternative route to university for those over 19 and who've been out of education for some time. It's a popular choice for those looking to get into specific careers such as nursing and physiotherapy. You can also read about studying A-levels at college as an adult.
  • Accounting and IT - Study bookkeeping or accounting with professional bodies such as the AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians). You can also gain skills in ICT (information and communications technology) by learning how to make the most of Microsoft Office software packages that allow you to create databases, spreadsheets and promotional materials for businesses.
  • Arts and crafts - These creative and highly practical courses range from ceramics and textile art to creative writing and photography.
  • GCSEs in popular subjects - Many mature students choose to study GCSEs in maths, English and science to enhance their career or further study prospects, often after spending many years away from the classroom.
  • Language courses - Whether you're new to a language or wish to progress to a higher level of proficiency, you can develop beginner, intermediate or advanced level ability in languages such as French, German, Italian or Spanish.
  • Skills Bootcamps - These free and flexible government-backed online courses lasting up to 16 weeks have been designed to help career changing adults aged 19 and over develop their skills in a field suffering from a skills shortage - for instance, construction, engineering and cyber security. To search for courses in your area, visit GOV.UK - Find a Skills Bootcamp.

FE funding and support

While college courses are typically free for 16 to 18-year-olds, funding is available for adults interested in further education.

You may be eligible for assistance with:

  • course costs
  • childcare
  • living expenses.

This may be in the form of:

  • Learner Support - for those aged 19 or over and facing financial difficulties, a loan or grant can assist with travel, accommodation and equipment such as a laptop.
  • Residential Support Scheme - if you're studying far from home you may be able to get help with the cost of term-time accommodation.
  • Care to Learn - available to those under 20 at the start of a publicly-funded (no charges for attendance) course in England, this scheme can help you with childcare costs.
  • 16 to 19 Bursary Fund - provides a bursary for education-related costs if you're aged 16 to 19 and studying at a school/college in England or on a training course.

See GOV.UK - Financial help for FE courses.

For those looking to work in healthcare, social work or teaching, career-specific bursaries are available.

Explore your eligibility for a range of grants and bursaries at GOV.UK - Grants and bursaries for adult learners.

Find out more

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