TEACHERS’, Lecturers’ and Students’ Union leaders have warned that Education Secretary Gove’s announcement on Monday of a ‘bursary scheme’ to replace the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) still means a massive cut in funding for the poorest students.
However, despite warning that ‘thousands of children will still be priced out of studying’, they nevertheless claim that the announcement represents a government ‘U-turn’, although complaining that it ‘doesn’t go far enough’.
Under the current EMA scheme, 16 to 19-year-olds receive EMA grants of between £10 and £30 per week.
Last year over 600,000 students received the EMA, with 80 per cent (those whose household income is less than £20,800) receiving the full £30 weekly allowance.
From September, only 12,000 new students who are either disabled, in care or from families on income support, will be guaranteed funding.
All others will be forced to apply to a discretionary fund managed by individual colleges.
The EMA allowances were introduced by the last Labour government in an attempt to tackle the long-standing problem of a high teenage drop-out rate from education, particularly among poorer students.
But the coalition government attacked the EMA scheme as ‘wasteful’ – and announced last year that it would replace it with a smaller, ‘discretionary’ fund.
On Monday the government announced a £180 million ‘bursary scheme’ to replace the EMA.
Education Secretary Michael Gove said the revised system would provide a ‘more targeted support system’.
He said that the bursary scheme would ‘ensure that every child eligible for free school meals who chooses to stay on could be paid £800 per year – more than many receive under the current EMA arrangements’ (note ‘could’, not would).
The University and College Union (UCU) said that the scheme doesn’t go far enough.
The union said that while it welcomed the news that students currently receiving the top band of the education maintenance allowance (EMA) would continue to receive some financial support, it said it was disappointed that this amount was being lowered from £30 to £20 and that those EMA recipients who are currently receiving the lower allowance of either £20 or £10 would miss out entirely.
The UCU pointed to the fact that £390 million is being cut from supporting poorer students following the abolition of the EMA and warned that many who need help would be priced out of studying.
A UCU survey of EMA recipients, published in January, revealed that 70 per cent would drop out of college if the financial aid was removed, and the union said that despite promises of ‘targeted support’ many would still be faced with that choice.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘While I’m pleased that the government has committed to continuing financial support for current EMA recipients and for families on income support, their U-turn doesn’t go far enough.
‘For all the talk of more targeted support, the bottom line is that £390 million is being cut from allowances and we still face the prospect of thousands of poorer students being priced out of studying.
‘While it is good that pupils from families on income support will be guaranteed funding, many future students who would currently qualify for the EMA will be left without the assistance they need to stay on at college.’
The National Union of Students (NUS) said that despite a small amount of additional funds and a U-turn on the decision to cut EMA from those already receiving it, the new support package will still harm the education of thousands of young people.
Shane Chowen, NUS Vice-President (Further Education), claimed: ‘We’ve won some major concessions from the Government and it is clear that tireless work of NUS, Save EMA and MPs of all parties have stopped some of the worst excesses of this policy.’
He continued: ‘However, this new package is still a shadow of its predecessor and it is not even clear if this last minute addition is new money or has been raided from careers guidance budgets.
‘Almost £400 million is still being cut from support to young people and EMA, which has been proven to work by every measure available, is still being scrapped.
‘Those who will receive automatic payments represent a tiny percentage of those eligible for EMA.
‘The majority of this reduced support fund will be available only on a discretionary basis, which means hundreds of thousands of young people will be applying to sixth forms and colleges not knowing what support they will receive.
‘The cost of transport was raised a significant concern by members on all sides of the house and the Secretary of State has failed to address this.
‘At a time when youth unemployment is so high those looking towards further education will be worried that they will be unable to make up the shortfall in funds through part-time work.’
Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘This announcement shows that Michael Gove has been unable to ignore the tens of thousands of people who campaigned against the Government’s decision to get rid of the EMA.
‘However, he has gone nowhere near far enough.
‘EMA helps to keep our young people in education.
‘We know from students that it helps them to pay for essentials such as transport, books and lunch.
‘Young people engaging in education is essential to social justice and to our economic future.
‘Michael Gove’s announcement cannot disguise the fact that the Government is slashing funding for EMA by two-thirds.
‘A much smaller number of young people will get help from this vital allowance.
‘As more young people drop out of education we will struggle to build the skills base on which the economic recovery depends.
‘EMA is another example of how cuts are the problem not the answer.’
The Save EMA campaign said: ‘If Michael Gove thinks that he deserves credit after giving 70p extra a week to 12,000 of the poorest students whilst at the same time taking away £30 a week to many of their classmates whose finances are marginally better, then he really is delusional.’
Leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union, Brian Lightman, claimed that schools and colleges would be ‘relieved that the government has listened to their concerns about the abolition of the EMA and the harmful effect it would certainly have on efforts to improve social mobility’.
EMA schemes in Scotland and Wales are continuing – and the allowances in Northern Ireland are under review.
Tens of thousands of school, college and university students marched and occupied colleges against the trebling of tuition fees to £9,000 and the abolition of the EMA last year.
Many were on last Saturday’s half-million-strong London march, where the Workers Revolutionary Party and Young Socialists’ call for an indefinite general strike to bring down the coalition was widely supported.
Now’s the time to step up the fight for this policy, and to go forward to a workers’ government and socialism.