Horticulture courses fend off cuts as Welsh Assembly rethinks funding

Colleges in Wales offering horticulture courses are fighting cuts following a Welsh Assembly plan to slash funding to further education by £3m from 2009/10.

More than 300 students, lecturers and University & College Union members protested against the cuts outside government buildings in Cardiff Bay on 1 April.

However, at the Government's economic summit on 6 April, which was held to produce counter-recession measures, ministers pledged to fund an additional 2,500 full-time further education places.

But a representative from Carmarthenshire college Coleg sir Gar, which runs courses on horticulture and floristry and sent out 80 redundancy letters before Easter, said the turnaround may not be enough: "Funding has been declining every year. They are now saying the funding will be given back to us, but we don't know yet what this extra funding means.

"It may be that some of those redundancy notices can be overturned, but it is still likely that voluntary redundancies will have to be asked for."

College principal Brian Robinson said: "It defies logic to cut funding for training at a time when it is needed more than ever.

"The cuts are being implemented when most colleges in Wales are expecting a rise in demand due to the general economic downturn."

Neath Port Talbot College is asking staff to take voluntary redundancies. Horticultural lecturer Neil Barry, who teaches for the college at Arts & Crafts garden Twyn yr Hydd, said: "Fortunately our department has not been affected by the cutbacks. We have just four lecturers.

"But the general feeling at the college is that efforts should instead be focused on getting people back into employment."

He added: "In response to the cuts we are doubling our efforts to promote the college. We will be taking part in the RHS Show Cardiff, planting up the National Garden Scheme (NGS) stand as we open every year for the NGS."

No staff members at the Welsh College of Horticulture or Bridgend have been made redundant, though Bridgend has lost £330,000 from its annual budget.

Details on how the additional funding for student places will be allocated to colleges in Wales are expected later this month.

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