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 2019/20 £799million was spent on adult education. They reported that 1.4 million adults currently choose to study or train across England's 251 colleges.

It was also revealed that 92,000 of these college students are aged 60 and over, showing that age is no barrier to learning and achieving a qualification in this country.

Therefore, if you're an adult looking to pursue professional and technical education and training in the UK, consider the various options open to you through college and other services offered at a local level.

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 Metropolitan Borough provides 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 280 colleges in the UK, at least nine can be described as dedicated 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:

  • Fircroft College (Birmingham)
  • Morley College London
  • Northern College (Barnsley)
  • Richmond and Hillcroft (London)
  • Ruskin College Oxford.

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.
  • 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.

Find out more

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