Ahead of next week’s Comprehensive Spending Review
NUS Vice President for FE Salsabil Elmegri and AoC President Sally Dicketts argue that the 16-19 Bursary, which in England replaced Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) in 2010, is inadequate.
This system gives money to institutions rather than directly to students, uses an application process which requires high levels of personal evidence, and excludes certain groups such as young carers, parents, and apprentices.
Writing during the fourth annual Colleges Week and NUS’s FE day of action, the National Union of Students and the Association of Colleges have united in calling on Rishi Sunak to support further education (FE) students struggling with living costs.
Their demands focus on improving the “woefully limited” maintenance support currently on offer:
The past 18 months have exposed and worsened the many struggles FE students face in our education system. From uncertainty on grades and exams, to rising levels of hardship and digital poverty, the pandemic has made one thing clear – this government really has a job on its hands to reduce inequality and ensure post-16 education is a place all people no matter their background can succeed. Latest polling from NUS reveals that almost 70% of FE students are concerned about being able to manage financially. This simply isn’t right, students deserve an education system in which learners can live in comfort and security whilst studying at college, sixth form or on an apprenticeship.
As we enter the fourth year of the annual celebration of Colleges Week, we are reiterating that no student should be forced to overcome such challenges and systemic barriers when all they’re trying to do is access education. Students are told that all they need to do is work hard and they’ll be able to get on, but this simply isn’t the case for too many. It’s clear that financial support is urgently needed so that all students can learn comfortably, no matter their circumstances.
The support on offer currently to further education students in England is woefully limited. The unfairly means-tested Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) is only available in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and to 16-19 year olds on certain qualification courses. In England, this funding model was replaced by a restrictive 16-19 Bursary where less money was given to institutions rather than directly to students, uses an application process which requires high levels of personal evidence, and for which certain groups such as young carers, parents, and apprentices aren’t eligible.
Adult learners (aged 19+) face even more obstacles, with the only option being Learner Support, and unsurprisingly many of the same problems exist. With the growing need to retrain and upskill people to plug growing labour shortages, barriers to these opportunities are hugely counterproductive to the government’s own ambitions. And we are still unclear whether the new Lifelong Loan Entitlement will have any maintenance support for part-time learners.
For the system to work for all FE students, and particularly for those who would benefit the most from the opportunities colleges have to offer, accessible and truly lifelong learning should include support for living costs. Ideally this would be through a system of non-repayable means-tested grants which would go directly to students who could otherwise not afford to live while in education and training, and would be easily accessible.
Later this month, Rishi Sunak will set out his Budget and three year spending plans. Alongside the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, these next few weeks provides the government with ample opportunities to cement their commitment to level up learning. Investing in students is in an investment in the future of skills and the economy, it is an essential step in ensuring equality of opportunity is spread equally across the country and a #NewVisionForEducation – one that is funded, accessible, lifelong and democratised for all students can be realised.
Salsabil Elmegri, National Union of Students Vice-President for Further Education, and Sally Dicketts, Association of Colleges President.
Commenting ahead of next week’s Comprehensive Spending Review, NUS Vice President for FE Salsabil Elmegri said:
“We’ve seen during the past 18 months just how many struggles FE students face in our education system. The idea that everyone is able to succeed no matter their background has been exposed as a total pipe dream.
“The Government must use the Comprehensive Spending Review to build an FE system that’s truly accessible and available throughout people’s lives. This must include support for living costs, which should come through a system of non-repayable means-tested grants directly available to students who could otherwise not afford to live while in education and training”.
Association of Colleges President Sally Dicketts commented:
“For lifelong learning opportunities to work for the people that need them most, being able to live whilst studying is crucial. With more and more people needing to upskill and retrain, the barriers to further education are counterproductive to the government’s ambitions of a ‘levelled up’ society. The spending review is an opportune moment to invest in students to get the skills the economy so desperately needs.”