In October 2010, the Coalition Government confirmed that it would be scrapping the Education Maintenance Allowance scheme in England which had previously encouraged students from less affluent backgrounds to continue their education beyond the age of sixteen.
Now, students are imploring MPs to reinstate the scheme with an early day motion, which has already acquired 34 signatures online. The motion states that the withdrawal of the allowance 'was a grave error because the scheme had allowed 16 to 19 year olds from some of the poorest families access to further education' and that its abolition 'had a hugely detrimental impact according to UCAS figures with 56,000 fewer students staying on in the last academic year'.
The EMA scheme has been replaced with the 16-19 bursary fund, which is administered directly from the young person’s academy, school, college or other training provider. This scheme allows the educational institutes to be more aware of their pupils’ financial situations, encouraging a more individual approach to monetary aid.
The Bring Back EMA Campaign has named this week as its week of action, urging students to 'lobby your MP today', as well as to organise events on campus this week in aid of the revival. The website lists a dozen colleges who have formulated a plan of action so far.
The website also shows a message of support for students protesting this week from Dianne Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, who encourages students to rise up against this cut, which she views as a "vicious attack on the aspirations of young people”. She expresses her belief that “the EMA had a transformative impact for young people, particularly in inner city communities like mine."
Matt Stanley, 24, co-founder of the Bring Back EMA campaign, and president of Mid Kent College Students’ Union, told The Independent that 'the government has got its priorities wrong' when it comes to funding. He highlighted that the government’s £560m budget for EMA was cut drastically to £150m for the new scheme, and that colleges are overspending as this budget does not cover the cost of accommodating all of the students in need. He states that 'the government shouldn’t be creating barriers for students' willing to continue their education beyond the required legal age.
“Education should be free,” he said.
Although the lessons themselves are free, for many students the cost of education can be overwhelming. Many will need to get the bus, require books and resources, and be given the opportunity to attend trips and extra-curricular activities, all relevant to their course and very expensive over the length of two years.
Lots of students continuing in education beyond the age of sixteen will have the ambition to progress to tertiary education, and those with limited financial means may find their aspirations alter when they are faced with the cost of supporting themselves through sixth form to then be struck with the new £9,000 per year tuition fees alongside the cost of living.
When the scheme was abolished, Alan Milburn, the government’s adviser on child poverty and social mobility, told The Guardian that its removal was 'a very bad mistake' as the EMA 'encouraged progression, attainment and good study habit because of the way it was awarded'. Students were only allowed the grant for weeks in which their school reported that they had 100 per cent attendance, meaning that money was only awarded to students who were committed to their studies.
Conor Ryan, director of research and communications at the Sutton Trust said that "We were critical of the abolition of the EMA, which helped both low and lower middle-income students to cover the costs of transport, books and other essentials while continuing their education in the sixth form or college. The new fund does help the poorest students, but our concern is that while individual schools or colleges may offer such help to students from lower-middle income families, surveys suggest there is a postcode lottery as the total fund is much smaller."
Students can get help and advice on protesting for this cause on the Bring Back EMA website.