The NUS has called on Education Secretary Michael Gove to admit he made the wrong decision to scrap EMA without properly assessing the impact on education participation.
Its call followed a report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, which criticised the government’s assessment of the impacts of scrapping the scheme.
Toni Pearce, NUS vice-president (FE), said: “As the tally of critics of Michael Gove’s approach to the scrapping of the EMA grows, now is the time for him to admit he got this policy disastrously wrong and reinstate EMA.”
Pearce argued that EMA had helped thousands of students stay in education, and that “Ministers twisted the evidence” and “ignored experts” leading to a replacement bursary scheme that has already required several amendments.
She added that there was no guarantee the new scheme will ensure that students who need money will be supported, and that the participation of students will not be damaged.
In 2009-10 there were 643,000 young people who received EMA, representing 32 per cent of 16-18 year-olds in England, or 47 per cent of all those in full time education.
In response to the Committee’s findings, Martin Johnson, deputy general secretary for the Association of Teachers and lecturers (ATL), warned that young people have been let down by the absence of rational planning for the post-16 provision, and many sixth forms are too small and uneconomic.
“ATL believes that the solution lies in persuading the government to take a firm policy line in favour of good post-16 opportunities for all, which require planning and collaboration and reform of the national system of governance,” said Johnson.
“The government’s notion of market data to remedy this problem is hopeless; youngsters need face to face support, not tables of exam data.”
Frank McLoughlin, chair of the 157 group of regionally influential colleges, also expressed concerns about an EMA replacement.
Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds need to be financially supported in order to succeed in FE, said McLoughlin.
“It is good that the Committee has agreed to return to this issue, and when it does we hope it will consider the serious implications of the changes for employability, social cohesion and social mobility,” he added.