From education to employment

Last stand for EMA

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This Wednesday, MPs will debate and vote on an Opposition Motion which calls for an urgent rethink on the Government’s plans to abolish the Education Maintenance Allowance.

We have witnessed a truly historic campaign in recent months. Led by the student and trade union movement at its best, the Save EMA campaign has brought together students, teachers, parents, Principal’s, Governors and the entire education sector under the same banner for the first time.

This overwhelming coalition comes with a clear message – that abolishing EMA is a mistake – and we must now rely on our elected representatives to do the right thing in Parliament.

I believe we have already won the argument. We have exposed the Coalition’s position on EMA as weak and ideological. Despite promises by the Prime Minister and the Education Secretary before the election that they had no plans to scrap EMA, they now preach a mantra of “deadweight” and the need to for a more targeted system. The Save EMA campaign has been vocal in revealing the shocking nature of the government’s evidence base for this weak justification. Out of 635,000 EMA recipients, they surveyed just 2500, of which 91% declared their ethnicity as White – hardly an accurate and representative sample to base such as massive policy decision.

The timings of this decision though, couldn’t be worse. Right now, students in year 11 are applying for courses in sixth forms and colleges to start in September, with absolutely no sense of what financial support they could be entitled to when they get there. A numbers of factors influence your decision of where and what to study, and the factors which EMA supports matter significantly. Yet our providers have no information to give new students. No information on this ‘enhanced learner support fund’, and what is just as horrifying, is that first year students who wish to continue at College for the remainder of their course, must now do so knowing that they will not be receiving EMA – despite signing a contract with the Government when they enrolled saying they can expect to be supported throughout their studies.

What is the Coalition offering the aspiring generation?

We now have an “advocate for access to further and higher education” in the Lib Dem Deputy Leader Simon Hughes MP. All eyes will be on what his contribution to the debate will be on Wednesday. As one student said to him at last week’s Save EMA public meeting in Parliament – “as a government advocate for access – what policies do you have to even advocate?”

It is clear that we are being hung out to dry by this Government and the attacks just keep on coming.

More and more Local Authorities are cutting subsidies for 16-18 public transport, we will see an almost certain removal of any kind of enrichment entitlement and huge numbers of individuals will now have to fork out for basic qualifications like level 2’s and ESOL.

I have seen the FE sector stand up and fight back when it matters most – and whatever the outcome of the vote on Wednesday, I couldn’t be more proud.

Shane Chowen is vice president (FE) of the NUS, a confederation of 600 FE and higher students’ unions

The Save EMA Campaign is supported by NUS, UCU, UNISON, NUT, UNITE, NASUWT & GMB

Read other FE News articles by Shane Chowen:

Forgotten graduates – the trouble with linking uni to success

Cuts announcement provokes mixed reaction from NUS

Bye Bye Bonuses


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