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Urgent action needed as EMA scrapped
Organise to stop education cuts!
The government definitely Con-Dem-ed young people with the cuts package in the Comprehensive Spending Review!
Jethro Waldron, College student, Nottingham
The Browne Review put forward the spectre of limitless tuition fees with the Lib Dems talking about a cap of £12,000. Meanwhile, 80% cuts in the funding of universities are planned. But the government has also announced £343 million worth of cuts to colleges and that the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) will be scrapped.
EMA is paid to students in colleges from lower income households, who receive between £10 and £30 a week. Before the Con-Dems got into power, it also included a bonus of £100 every term for good work and attendance.
The EMA system had many failings - recently, it became notorious for failing to pay out money to students. This was partly due to the administration of EMA being farmed out to a private company who, predictably, sacked many workers in pursuit of profit, overwhelming a workforce of a few hundred who had to process thousands of claims.
In addition EMA payments are rarely adequate. I receive £10 EMA a week. EMA is intended to pay for all incidental costs associated with continuing in education after the age of 16 such as transport costs and equipment. Seeing as my weekly bus travel to and from college costs £14.50, my EMA, although better than nothing, is not enough.
There are also many costs that you don't anticipate, and that EMA can help with. For example, my college runs theatre trips for English students. Although the tickets are heavily discounted, they cost at least £5 a time.
Another big cost this year has been to do with exams. I sat my AS-levels last year and wanted remarks on four of my papers. If my marks had stayed the same or gone down, this might have set me back £300. Why should these things be reserved for only the richest students?
What this shows is that cutting EMA is going to price a lot of students out of post-16 education. Ability, motivation and ambition are going to mean little in a Con-Dem Britain - if you can't pay you would not have much of a choice but to join the dole queue.
The value of EMA was confirmed in a 2004 study by Loughborough University, which found that staying-on rates at college improved by 5.9% between 2003 and 2004 (the year EMA was launched).
If anything, EMA should have been extended. The government never made provision for students who come from families earning more than £30,000 a year, but who have high mortgages or big childcare costs.
Scrapping EMA is not fair. But doing nothing while the government walks all over us is not an option. Students need to get organised to defend their rights and defeat the cuts.
Youth Fight for Jobs and Socialist Students will be at the forefront of this movement, and I suggest that every student joins us.
In The Socialist 27 October 2010:
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news