Applications double in last-minute rush on EMA

4th March 2011 at 00:00
Surge of students seeking allowance could cost the Government pound;5 million

The number of students applying for the axed education maintenance allowance (EMA) doubled in the final month of applications for funding.

In a late surge, 14,617 students applied for the EMA in December 2010, compared with just 7,339 in December 2009.

The figures have been attributed to colleges laying on extra courses that started in January and to increased awareness of the allowance due to the Save EMA campaign opposing the cuts. The additional cost to the Government of December's influx of students could amount to as much as pound;5 million.

The final day for EMA applications was 31 December, with eligible students entitled to receive the allowance until the end of the summer term.

New figures from the Young People's Learning Agency reveal that the number of EMA applicants also increased in November.

Joy Mercer, director of education policy at the Association of Colleges (AoC), said: "Colleges are aware they want to get people started in the habits of study with the last remaining bit of financial support available.

"The profile of EMA has been raised by a very energetic campaign, which the AoC was involved with."

Shane Chowen, vice-president for FE at the National Union of Students, said the increase was also due to widespread demand for the EMA. "More college students from poorer backgrounds were eligible for EMA than ministers envisaged and, amid greater public awareness, more of them are now sustaining themselves in education with it," he said.

"Politicians simply didn't know who they were taking on when they decided to scrap financial support for college learners, but understanding of the scheme's benefits and of our campaign to save it has massively increased."

If each of December's 7,200 extra EMA applicants receives the full entitlement of pound;30 per week until the end of the summer term, the additional bill for the Government would amount to pound;5.2 million.

There was also sufficient funding left over for 72 students who applied for the EMA in January.

The biggest drop in EMA applications was recorded in October, the month in which the scrapping of the allowance was announced in the comprehensive spending review. The number of applicants that month was 38,437, down almost 9,000 from the same period 12 months earlier. But the number of applicants the following month rose by more than 3,000 compared with the previous November, before doubling in December.

Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham said: "For young people from less well-off backgrounds, EMA provides a helping hand to succeed - and these figures show how important it is.

"The Tory-led Government claim they want to see every young person staying in education and training until they are 18, but by scrapping EMAs they are pulling up the drawbridge and kicking away the ladder. The risk is a lost generation of students, who have the talent but not the financial means to stay in post-16 education.

"Once again, the Government has made a rushed decision based on extremely selective evidence and before any alternative is in place - and once again, young people will pay the price."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "Students were entitled to apply for the EMA until the end of December. We are now replacing it - to target support at young people who face the highest financial barriers to carrying on their studies."

EMA APPLICANTS

Oct 2009: 47,265

Nov 2009: 12,759

Dec 2009: 7,339

Oct 2010: 38,437

Nov 2010: 16,190

Dec 2010: 14,617.

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