Abolition of EMA ‘will lead to a devastating drop in young people staying in education’

Placards held aloft on the NUS/TUC march in Manchester in January
Placards held aloft on the NUS/TUC march in Manchester in January

NINETY-THREE per cent of college principals are concerned that the abolition of the education maintenance allowance (EMA) will lead to a devastating drop in young people staying in education, according to a Unison and UCU survey.

On Wednesday, the day the latest unemployment figures were released, a survey of more than 100 principals revealed the real picture of the Government’s savage cuts agenda.

The government is also axing fee remission for many people, which currently gives free tuition to adult learners on means-tested benefits and to their dependents.

The most deprived areas in England face a double whammy of cuts, as the areas where a high percentage of young people receive the EMA are often the areas that have the highest number of adult students receiving fee remissions.

Dave Prentis, Unison General Secretary, said: ‘This is a warning shot to the government straight from college principals’ mouths – cutting the EMA and axing free tuition for people on benefits will cause huge damage to colleges and students.

‘In advance of the budget, we are calling on the government to come clean on the hidden cost of axing the EMA scheme.

‘Capita, the private company that runs the scheme, has a contract until August 2013 worth £68 million, but the EMA is being scrapped this summer.

‘The government must realise that this is a vital lifeline – without the EMA many students will be unable to buy food, books, or travel to college.

‘We have been overwhelmed with concerned parents, students and staff contacting us about further education funding cuts and now principals have revealed their fears.

‘The government must rethink their savage plan, or millions of young people and their families will be left facing a bleak future.’

UCU General Secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘This survey pours yet more cold water on ministers’ hurried and incorrect conclusion that the EMA was not a vital lifeline for thousands of students.

‘Perhaps if Michael Gove had taken the time to visit a single further education college, he could have spoken to principals and students who would have told him that in reality, the payment is a make or break factor for many young people when they decide whether to stay on in education past the age of 16.

‘There will no longer be second chances for some of the most disadvantaged adults who will lose the option of retraining at their local college.

‘The principals surveyed clearly recognise this is going to fundamentally change the nature of colleges, from institutions able to offer all kinds of opportunities to all kinds of people, to institutions that have a much narrower range of courses and are forced to focus far more on young people.’

It is predicted that 70 per cent of college students who receive the EMA will quit if it is abolished.

With more than half of all students receiving the EMA, its abolition will have a huge impact on numbers.

In addition, from September, only those on Job Seekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance will receive fee remission.

Hundreds of thousands of people over the age of 19 on benefits – including income support housing benefits and pension tax credits – will now be priced out of education.

Those being forced to retrain in the face of rising unemployment, and vulnerable groups such as lone parents and those with learning difficulties, will be hit the hardest.

At Knowsley Community College, in Merseyside, 94 per cent of the students receive EMA and 70 per cent of adults have fee remissions.

Groups on income-based benefits which are threatened with being forced out of education because they are no longer entitled to fee remission, are: those in receipt of Council Tax Benefits, Housing Benefit, Income Support, Working Tax Credit, Pension Credit, Contribution-based Employment Support Allowance, as well as unwaged dependents of all those in receipt of these benefits.

Colleges with the highest percentage of students receiving EMA are: Knowsley Community College – Merseyside – 94 per cent, Warrington College – 82 per cent, Blackburn College – 79 per cent, Kirklees College – 78 per cent, South Birmingham College – 71 per cent, East Riding College – 71 per cent, Tower Hamlets – 70 per cent, The Manchester College – 68 per cent.

The survey asked college principals: ‘Are you concerned the ending of EMA will lead to a drop in numbers?’ They replied: ‘Yes’ – 93 per cent of principals, ‘No’ – 7 per cent.

l ‘Don’t die on the picket line next week’, the UCU has warned its Lancaster University members who are taking part in a national strike over pensions.

Lancaster University lecturers have been issued with a chilling warning that, should they die on strike days, their loved ones will be left without financial compensation.

In a newsletter to all staff, the university management warned that those who take part in national strike action next Tuesday (22 March) and Thursday (24 March) will have their pension contributions suspended for those days, which in turn renders them ineligible for death-in-service benefits.

The move on pension contributions by Lancaster University comes as staff at 63 UK universities take the first national strike action in universities for over five years, affecting well over a million students (1,241,655).

While it is routine for employees to lose a day’s pay on a strike day, Lancaster University has upped the ante by increasing the proportion of pay lost from 1/365 to 1/260 of annual salary.

The dispute is against the imposition of detrimental changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme which will reduce pension benefits and increase costs.

UCU regional official, Martyn Moss, said: ‘We’re confident our members will not be deterred from joining the picket line, as the proposed draconian changes to the pension scheme have incited a lot of anger.

‘So far, we’re seeing the exact opposite, with members telling us that this measure was the final deciding factor that has persuaded them to sign up for picket duty next week.

‘For academic and related-staff, their pensions package is deferred pay that compensates for the lower salaries they receive carrying out research and teaching in universities, than they would get if they chose to use their highly specialised knowledge and skills elsewhere.’

Strikes took place in Scotland on Thursday 17 March, and take place in Wales on Friday 18 March, in Northern Ireland on Monday 21 March and in England on Tuesday 22 March.

There will then be a second day of strike action across the UK on Thursday 24 March.