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70% of students would drop out of college if EMA is scrapped, reveals new poll

18 January 2011

As MPs prepare to vote on the future of the education maintenance allowance (EMA), a poll of students who receive the financial support has revealed that seven in ten (70%) would drop out of college if it is withdrawn.

  • Survey comes as MPs prepare for crunch vote on future of college grant
  • Protests planned at colleges throughout England

The survey, conducted by UCU*, of pupils at the 30 colleges and sixth-forms with the highest proportion of students receiving the EMA, also shows that over a third (38%) of those who get the college grant would not have started their course without it.

The news comes ahead of an opposition day debate in parliament on Wednesday (19 January), in which MPs will vote on a motion that calls on the government to rethink its plans to scrap the financial support and on the first day of joint action by students, staff and unions as part of the Save EMA campaign.

Ahead of the general election both David Cameron and the education secretary, Michael Gove, said they would not scrap EMAs. Today colleges and sixth-forms around the country will be holding lunchtime demonstrations and tomorrow there will be a lobby in the House of Commons from 1pm to 4pm.

Key findings from the poll include:

  • seven in ten students  receiving the EMA (70%) said they would have to drop out of their course if their EMA was withdrawn
  • over a third (38%) of respondents who get the EMA said they would not have started their course without it
  • nearly two-thirds (63%) of those questioned who receive the EMA said they received no financial support from their family for meeting the cost of college.

Studies show that the EMA is a key factor in improving participation in further education. Colleges in some of the most deprived areas of the UK will be the hardest hit if the government breaks its pre-election promise and scraps the EMA. In some areas of Birmingham, Leicester and the north-west, as many as four-fifths of students receive the EMA.

The protests and lobby are being organised by UCU, the National Union of Students (NUS), the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), UNISON, Unite, GMB and the Save EMA campaign.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'The results of this survey make a mockery of Michael Gove's claims that the EMA is a deadweight cost. EMAs make the difference between students being able to attend college and complete their course or being priced out. It is quite scandalous that Michael Gove is planning to break his pre-election pledge to keep EMAs when he has not even visited one further education college. MPs must consider the blighted futures of thousands of young people when they vote on Wednesday.'

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: 'The coalition government needs to listen to the many voices from both within and outside of Parliament which say the decision to end the EMA is wrong. Getting rid of this allowance will ensure that many young people will not be able to afford to continue in further education. This is essential funding that means higher and further education is a goal to which all, not just the well off, can aspire to. To axe it will be a great social injustice.' 

Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary, said: 'The axing of the EMA is a vicious attack on young people, their families and communities. EMA is not pocket money, it is vital support to the poorest students and allows them to buy books and pay for travel to college. Without this support many young people will be forced to drop out, or rely on their families to step in. For many families already facing pay freezes and job cuts this will simply not be possible. MP's must do the right thing and vote for the government to rethink its savage plans.'

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: 'In cutting the EMA the government is taking a huge and unnecessary gamble with young people's lives.  Without it many thousands of students will be forced to drop out of college and thousands of others will be denied an education beyond 16.  This would be a colossal waste of talent, condemn many young people to unemployment, and would be a completely false economy resulting in higher unemployment among young people, college closures and redundancies among lecturers.'

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: 'Removing the EMA is symptomatic of the coalitions government's elitist education agenda, stripping young people, as it does,  of much needed financial support and, consequently reducing their opportunities and life chances. All students should press their MPs to demonstrate their commitment to equality of access to education for all young people by voting to keep the EMA.'

Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), said: 'The EMA is a vital lifeline for thousands and every piece of reliable evidence backs that up. The government's assertion that it is '90% deadweight' is narrow-minded and shows how out of touch they are with the needs of ambitious young people from poorer backgrounds. Scrapping EMA and other support for young people will destroy the aspirations of thousands of young people and the government must take a step back and reconsider their plans.'

James Mills, from the Save EMA campaign, said: 'This study is added to an endless list of research that shows EMA works, compared to the government's one rather questionable departmental report. If axing the EMA is not an ideological pernicious cut, then it's inept policy making. The findings of this study should act as a wake-up call to politicians.'

*The survey was conducted with the assistance of the Association of Colleges (AoC). Over 700 students who receive the EMA were polled.

Last updated: 5 June 2019