EMA – If they won’t give it to us
we’ll have to take it!
The abolition of the student support grant, the EMA, in England will affect some students’ ability to reach class, college principals say.
As travel fares rise and cuts bite, there are particular concerns for those in rural areas, some of whom travel up to 35 miles (56km) to get to college. Principals fear poorer students may not be able to follow the preferred course, due to unaffordable transport costs.
In the Spending Review, Chancellor George Osborne announced plans to axe the scheme, which was designed to keep students coming to class, saying it had very high “dead weight costs”.
The findings come from a survey of 160 Association of Colleges (AoC) members. Some 94% said they thought the abolition of the grant, worth up to £30 a week for the poorest students, will affect students’ ability to travel. The agreed the EMA is a critical factor in students’ decisions about staying in education.
The majority (78%) of colleges provide some form of financial assistance. The average spend is about £140,000 a year. But figures are far higher for land-based colleges which specialise in agricultural and horticultural courses and tend to be in rural areas.
AoC President Chris Morecroft said: “There is a danger of students getting caught in a pincer movement between cash-strapped colleges and local authorities, which have also seen severe budget cuts. “Our members are concerned that local authority subsidies may be at risk, and even where subsidies remain, fares still may be out of reach for the poorest students.
“The abolition of the EMA (education maintenance allowance) will simply compound this, leaving the most disadvantaged students struggling to get to college to gain the qualifications they need to prepare themselves for a fulfilling and productive life.
“This may be an unintended consequence of the funding cuts faced by our colleges, local government and our students, but it flies in the face of the coalition government’s avowed desire to improve social mobility.” The AoC is urging the government to reconsider its abolition of EMA funding.
A Department for Education spokesman said it was determined to make sure that no young person was put off staying in education because of transport problems. “Local authorities have a statutory responsibility to enable 16 to 18 year olds to attend education and training by making sure that transport is not a barrier”. “And we are reviewing all home to school transport including looking at transport for pupils who live in rural areas.“But let’s be clear, the deeply worrying state of the public finances has meant we’ve had to make some tough decisions. EMA was an expensive programme, costing over £560m a year with administration costs amounting to £36m, and only increased the participation in education of a minority of students”.
Students have held protests at about 30 schools and colleges in England against the scrapping of the EMA study support grant, campaigners say. But this is just the start. There are more protests planned for the 26th and 29th of January. The government says the allowances of up to £30 a week for low-income students aged 16-19 are wasteful. But the college lecturers union said their research sugested that 70% of the poorest students would drop out if it were cut.
The UCU polled more than 700 students, in the 30 colleges and schools with the highest proportion of students receiving EMA in England. 38% of those polled said they would not have started their courses without EMA, while 63% said they received no financial support from their family for college costs.
Education Maintenance Allowances were introduced by Labour to encourage young people from deprived backgrounds to stay in education and training after they reach 16. Students whose parents’ earnings fall below certain thresholds receive payments of £10, £20 or £30 a week. These can be spent however the student chooses, and are used by many students to cover the cost of course equipment, books and transport.
There have been many walk-outs and demonstrations already this year at colleges around England. The University and College Union said it knew of about 30 lunchtime protests that had taken place, in colleges ranging from London, to Liverpool, to Newcastle and Cornwall.
One of the biggest was at Dudley College, where several hundred students rallied, some in fancy dress. Students in Leeds were planning to hold a silent protest later in the day, while young people at City College Norwich were to light a candle for every student at the college who receives EMA.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU said the government’s decisions over the EMA had been a “complete shambles”. “First they pledged they would not axe it, now they say they will”. “They clearly have no understanding of how important the EMA is or the difference it makes to so many people’s chances of improving themselves,” she said.
The government says it has had to make “tough decisions” because of the state of public finances. But let US make it clear 500 million pounds is a drop in the ocean compared with the amount of tax avoidence in this country. Vodafone alone owes the public purse twelve times that amount.
We know it’s about priorities. We need to take to the streets on the 26th and 29th January. -And build for the big one, when students and workers will march sholder to sholder against all cuts and for a better future on March 26th.
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Save Our Services in Surrey have booked subsidised travel to the March 26th demonstration in London. This March is going to be the biggest Britain has ever seen. All the unions are backing it and organising coaches from all over the country.
Travel to the demonstration is only £2.00Rtn. To reserve a place on our buses go to www.saveourservic.es Use the PayPal donate button and in the name field include the words “for bus” in brackets.Alternatively leave a message on the Guildford Against Fees And Cuts Facebook page and we’ll get back to you.