Cut EMA, weaken retention

26th November 2010 at 00:00

You correctly report the depth of concern among delegates at the Association of Colleges conference regarding the withdrawal of the education maintenance allowance (Editorial, November 19). A frequently voiced criticism at the conference was that the policy was being justified on the basis of selective research.

In 2007, the then Learning and Skills Council published multi-stage research by RCU into the national roll-out of the EMA, which uncovered the complexity of the positive impact of EMAs.

While more than 60 per cent of learners receiving the lowest band of EMA (#163;10 a week) said the allowance made no difference to their choice to stay in study, the equivalent figure for the group receiving the full #163;30 award was just over 40 per cent.

Almost 45 per cent of recipients of the #163;30-a-week EMA award felt they would have had to increase part-time working hours without EMAs, potentially putting pressure on their ability to keep up with coursework.

The long-established inverse link between deprivation and retention was weaker among EMA recipients than non-EMA recipients and, in the most deprived neighbourhoods, EMA recipients significantly outperformed non-EMA recipients in terms of pass rates. In the year EMAs were rolled out nationally, success rates rose by 3.2 per cent, increasing fastest in the most deprived neighbourhoods.

While EMAs appeared to have a positive impact on retention and achievement across all groups, the impact was greatest on male learners, ethnic minority groups, learners from areas of high deprivation and those on lower-level courses.

About 70 per cent of colleges agreed that EMAs had increased applications and participation and 83 per cent agreed they had improved retention. As colleges across the country prepare for the impact of the withdrawal of the EMA, I hope a reminder of these findings will help them anticipate the consequences.

Gordon Aitken, director, RCU.

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