Students protest over support cut

Student protestsMany student protesters have been highlighting the axing of the EMA
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Students, lecturers and trade unionists are preparing to protest in about 100 colleges in England against the axing of the education maintenance allowance.

The government plans to scrap the scheme, which is aimed at encouraging poorer pupils to stay in education, from September next year.

Supporters of the EMA, which is worth up to £30 a week, say it stops thousands of students dropping out.

However, ministers say it is an inefficient scheme.

Chancellor George Osborne announced plans to axe the scheme in the spending review, saying it had very high “dead weight costs”.

But numerous studies show the EMA, introduced by Labour, is a key factor in increasing and maintaining the number of young people taking part in education.

Recent research suggests students on EMA miss fewer classes and are more likely to stay on in college than wealthier students, despite the fact they tend to have poorer prior attainment.

The EMA is effective because it is only paid if recipients attend all their classes. Colleges and schools withdraw the week’s money if pupils miss class without a good reason.

And many pupils depend on it to fund their transport, books and even basic living costs.

Save EMA campaign organiser James Mills said many students would drop out of education if the scheme was scrapped.

“When there were problems with the administration of the allowance a couple of years ago I remember lecturers at my college bringing in bags of shopping for pupils who did not get their money,” he said.

Seven trade unions – including the UCU, the NUT, Nasuwt and the ATL – are joining the protests, set to take place at lunchtime in about 100 colleges.

“This will hit some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society”

Sally Hunt UCU general secretary

In some cities such as Birmingham and Leicester, and parts of north-west England, as many as four-fifths of students receive the allowance.

One college preparing for a peaceful demonstration is the City of Bath College.

The college’s principle Matt Atkinson said axing EMA would lead to pupils dropping out.

“Where you have got colleges that are serving rural areas, a lot of these young people are using EMAs to actually get to college,” he said.

“For young people in disadvantaged backgrounds this is a significant contribution to the household income.”

General secretary of the UCU lecturers’ union Sally Hunt said the EMA was a vital lifeline for many students.

“Withdrawing the EMA will hit some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society, as well as the colleges that are there to serve them.”

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said if the EMA was axed it would be a disaster for social justice and for the economy.

“Education is the major factor in social mobility, ending the EMA will mean that many students from less well off backgrounds will simply not be able to countenance continuing with further education.”

General secretary of the Nasuwt teaching union Chris Keates said: “The abolition of the EMA is a direct attack on the futures of thousands of young people across the country. They have a right to be angry and to use the democratic process to influence elected representatives to oppose these changes.”

ATL general secretary, Dr Mary Bousted, said: “Cutting the EMA will hit the most disadvantaged students hard and make it impossible for some to stay in education.”

The Association of Colleges shares the concerns and its chief executive Martin Doel has written to Michael Gove asking for him to rethink the plans.

This article is from the BBC News website. © British Broadcasting Corporation, The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

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