Vince Cable has spoken about how his mother's mind was saved by adult education.
In his first speech as business secretary, he described how she had a nervous breakdown when he was 10 and "spent time in a mental hospital".
"When she recovered she saved her mind through adult education," he said, learning about history, literature, philosophy and art for the first time.
But England's colleges face £200m of cuts to their adult learning budgets.
These cuts were identified by the former Labour government, and were confirmed as "efficiency savings" by the new Chancellor last week.
In his speech to the Cass Business School on Thursday, Mr Cable also said "philistinism" was "bad economics" and that education was good for the economy.
"Education and learning are of course desirable in their own right. Education for education's sake - learning and how to learn - benefits the economy in the long term," he added.
He said the priorities for his department included an "increased emphasis on lifelong learning, stripping out some of the bureaucracy around FE (further education)".
And he went on to suggest in a question and answer session that the department's lifelong learning budget may be safeguarded.
A string of quangos, at least partly funded by Mr Cable's department, are being axed, phased out or are having their budgets reduced.
A departmental spokesman said these included LearnDirect, the Institute for Learning, the Learning and Skills Improvement Service.
The UK Commission for Employment and Skills has been merged with another quango Investors in People.
In his speech, he said a further 20 quangos would be abolished within a year, but stopped short of naming them.
Recipe for recovery
Peter Lavender, deputy chief executive at the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education, welcomed the fact Mr Cable had recognised the social benefits of learning, saying it was a message his organisation had sought to get across for a number of years.
"This recognition will be critical in the years to come as we struggle to grow and develop the country's economy, to develop and sustain communities, and help individuals become all that they are capable of becoming," he added.
"There is a connection between economic regeneration and the personal confidence of adults and young people.
"New learning is one of the best recipes for recovery."
University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt also welcomed the comments, saying: "Adult education can make a huge difference to people's lives as he illustrated with the case of his mother.
But she added: "However, this does not change the fact that thousands of staff are facing the sack and that thousands of students will miss out on a college and university place.
"This is the last thing this country needs if we want to remain a major player in the global knowledge economy.
"Cutting jobs in further and higher education will come back and haunt this government."