Rural students hit hardest in the cuts

BUXTON STUDENTS have been dealt another blow by the coalition government this week – just two months after taking to the town’s streets in protest at funding cuts.

The latest blow comes as the government announced proposals to scrap the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) from next September. EMA, which is already closed to new applicants, is currently paid to students from lower income households to encourage young people to continue education after the age of 16.

But the coalition government want to scrap the scheme, as they say it is too expensive and many students will remain in education with or without the grant.

Rural watchdog, the Country Landowners Association, has expressed concern over the plans, saying they fear that students in rural areas could be hardest hit.

CLA East Midlands acting director, Andrew Shirley, said: “Our fear is that this could be a classic case of unintended consequences, with young people in rural areas disproportionately affected.

“Many people living in the Midlands’ countryside are already restricted in their opportunities by the lack of affordable effective broadband, so home learning is often impractical.

“In these days of limited public transport in rural areas and soaring fuel costs, the EMA money, paid only if students attend all their classes, could make all the difference.

“The CLA has always maintained that the provision of education and training for rural dwellers is as dependent on accessibility as it is on availability. The more accessible we make education, the brighter the outlook for the whole economy.”

Under EMA, eligible students, aged 16,17 or 18, receive weekly payments of £10, £20 or £30 directly into their bank account to help with costs like travel, books or other items related to their studies.

Students who are already receiving EMA will continue to receive it for the rest of the academic year (2010/11) if they fulfil the terms of their EMA agreement, but the scheme is no longer accepting any new applications.

The proposals have been slammed by the University and College Union who conducted a poll of students who receive the financial support and discovered that seven in ten would drop out of college if it is withdrawn.

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 per cent) of those who get the college grant would not have started their course without it.

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.”

Students across the country have already taken to the streets in protest at the plans. MPs were due to vote on a motion to rethink the plans yesterday (Wednesday).