Adult students accuse Highlands of pursuing ‘anti-older-age-group agenda’

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MORE than 40 adult-education students have accused Highlands College of pursuing ‘an anti-older-age-group agenda’ by scrapping art courses they say support ‘friendship, community, and a sense of learning together in a supportive environment’.

The students say they feel that no one from the college’s management team has listened to their needs, or considered how the courses – which have been run for several decades – could have been delivered successfully following a post-pandemic shake-up of adult education.

A government spokesperson defended the reorganisation which they said was about ‘widening the participation and growing the offer’.

‘It is about inclusion, not exclusion. Highlands is opening classes to all applicants, and there will be opportunities for all students to progress onto different courses,’ they said.

However, in a letter sent to the JEP, the signatories – representing both retired people and those in employment – say the college cancelled fully subscribed classes without warning; sent out a ‘confusing and contradictory’ letter to students; and undertook a ‘tick-box’ consultation that ignored their views before introducing new courses unsuitable for their needs.

The complainants say: ‘Some of us attended meetings as individuals, some representing our classes. The overall impression was that decisions had already been made and that no account was to be taken of any points made to the management during these meetings. Rightly or wrongly, the strong overall impression given in these meetings was that there is an anti-older-age-group agenda.’

Earlier this year Highlands announced that they were redesigning adult-education courses ‘to allow tutors to share their knowledge and expertise with more Islanders’, and said that some summer courses had been cancelled to allow for what was referred to as ‘thorough consultation’.

Highlands principal Jo Terry-Marchant wrote to students in January, saying: ‘Due to opportunities afforded by organisational changes and to allow the time needed for recruitment to new roles and new courses, the adult community education provision will be offering a reduced programme of courses during the summer term. I apologise for any inconvenience caused.’

However, after months of dissatisfaction at the restructuring – which a government spokesperson said reflected a change in the type of demand for such courses following the Covid-19 pandemic – the affected Islanders have set out their concerns about the new plans in writing.

They said that the college was replacing their courses with new ones, involving formal assessment and grading, which were unsuitable but which, in any case, they had been told they were ineligible to enrol on because they ‘had done classes for too long’.

‘We are from all walks of life and the classes are good mixing pots. One thing we have in common is that the courses are freely chosen leisure art classes. Those of us retired have had a lifetime in many and varied occupations. Those of us still in the workplace need this break from hectic lives and none of us in adult-education leisure art courses are here to be formally assessed and graded,’ they said.

In addition, their letter says that they fear a subsidy available to some retired people is likely to be withdrawn. ‘Some might call it an investment by the States as it is far, far cheaper to support people on leisure courses than have them enter expensive mental-health programmes,’ the complainants’ letter continues.

The signatories to the letter message said they hoped that those responsible for the management of the adult community education programme at Highlands would see a way to continue ‘the existing well-subscribed courses alongside any new provision’.

Responding to the comments, the government spokesperson said: ‘Highlands College management held multiple face-to-face focus groups with students and staff. A public survey was conducted, the results of which were shared with staff and students. A dedicated email box was available for feedback. The principal and management team replied directly via letters and emails to any direct communication received. The Principal and management team attended the focus groups, and the principal has attended the Philip Mourant Centre and so has her team.

‘All students are welcome to apply [for courses] and will receive an offer on a first-come, first-served basis. Currently, a minority of courses have long waiting lists where applicants have not been able to access them because of priority enrolments for current users. The college has not told anyone that they cannot continue because “they have done classes for too long”. The relaunch will open up access, not reduce it.’

The spokesperson added that dropping subsidies was not part of the current plan.

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