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According to a report from the National Union of Students (NUS), 60 per cent of 16-19 olds receiving the educational maintenance allowance (EMA) would be forced to drop out of study if they did not receive the payment.

The report, NUS EMA Survey 2008, comes as it is revealed that 90,000 learners are still waiting for their EMA applications to be processed, more than a month after the start of this academic year. NUS believes this means 50,000 learners are now at risk of leaving education.

Beth Walker, NUS Vice President (Further Education), said: "The EMA is a vital source of day-to-day support for hundreds of thousands of students in further education. This report makes it clear that without this form of student support, the majority could no longer continue studying and would be forced drop out.

"The current delays to processing EMA applications are totally unacceptable. Students should not be put at risk with bad contracts, shoddy procedures and ropey technology, as has too often been the case in the past. There must be a full investigation into why many thousands of learners have been failed and to ensure that this situation can never occur again.

"Every year, students have to struggle through unwieldy levels of bureaucracy to obtain the EMA. This report shows the challenges they face, while reminding anyone who was in any doubt of how important this form of student support is to keeping young people in education."

The findings also showed that 40 per cent of the poorest learners feel the EMA is not enough to cover their essential costs. This group was found to be more likely to use commercial debt to cover the shortfall. NUS recommends the Government raises the rate of EMA by inflation each year for all students. Additionally, the organisation is calling for the introduction of a higher London and south-east rate to ease the crisis.

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