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Save EMA – XMAS is Over!


So, the bill passed. As expected. But the main issues with the fee rises are not the fees themselves. They aren’t the worst thing in the world. The poor would pay back the least, and most people would pay less than they do now. (With obvious drawbacks of course) The point is, debt is a horrible thing, and one as large as a mortgage will put many many people off attending, and because the rises and cuts in universities is a symbol of the decreasing value of education for education’s sake, and as a human right, and is instead leading towards the increasing marketisation of it to be bought and sold, or used as a factory to create workers.

In contrast, taking away EMA will (theres no could or might about it) physically stop people from attending further education, and therefore universities after, at least with any choice of which courses and establishment. So yeah, I need to back up what I am saying. Okay, here goes: People like one of my college friends, R, who come from a poor background, already have trouble now. To go the closest college from her house, she needs to catch a bus. The bus pass at the time was in excess of £600, as our company decided to include a whole county pass for this deal. The price is now doubling. At the time, with EMA, (and working alongside college) the bus pass still needed to be paid for up front, and so she basically had to owe the college students union money over a fair few months at the start of the year, instead of spending it on college supplies. Without EMA, this much would not have been possible.

So let us look at this closer. Most supplies need to be bought at the start of the year, and this is when the money is being drained. In order to speed up he process and being able to get the supplies needed for the course, R had to work. ‘Okay’, you might say, ‘lots of people work alongside college. It’s pretty normal.’ Yes, it is. To choose to work alongside further education is probably more common than to choose not to, but if there is no choice, either because your family cannot afford it or your family are not funding your education then it is not the same. If you choose to work in this way, then you probably decide how much work to do based on how much coursework you are getting, and feel fairly confident to barter different shifts, or to give notice and look for a job that better suits your schedule. If you are relying on the income to fund your education, then you are going to work the hours you need to, however many that is, whether or not it puts you at a disadvantage to those who choose not to work. Certain universities expect you to be able to dedicate all of your time to your work, and are less likely to accept you if you give the impression that you may still need to do so in higher education.

Then there are these supplies themselves. Well, some courses need books to read, ones to write in, files etc. These things can’t really be done without for the first few months. R and myself, on the other hand, were doing full time courses in Art and Design. This means as well as the usual stuff, we needed to fork out for A3 sketchbooks, a range of pencils, paints, glue, and other untraditional materials just for the main bulk. Part of the course includes fashion, in which, if you want to make something from textiles, the quality of the fabric or material you choose will have a very direct impact on the final product and your result. With art and design being a lot less likely to get one a job in tumultuous times (they are cutting art schemes 100% where I’m from) this means many may not risk paying so much for a course that may not pay out, and they are far more likely to cave to parental concerns and societal expectations, if indeed they can afford to study something like art at all.

I wonder what this will mean for colleges. They get their money from the amount of students attending, so a lack would mean even more cutting wouldn’t it? So do they make things more expensive or do they privatise? Do they shut down art or do they begin specializing only in vocational courses again? The 6th forms have a-levels covered… but then Labour gave a lot of money to 6th form schemes like turning the 6th form at my school into a ‘Sports College’, even though my school did not even fund girls to play rugby, football or cricket, so would these courses be enough to keep colleges going strong?

Then we have the more controversial spendings. For those who are funding their education with little or no help from their parents will want to buy lunch every day they are in, obviously, which is somewhat expected, but using EMA to fund a life outside the walls of the further education institutions seems to cause quite a stir. I might point out that R, whilst working and getting EMA, chose not to go out in the evenings. She would buy the odd book, a few doodle pads (useful for an art student,) drink machine coffee, and yes, she did buy a coat and a pair of boots over those three years. It is unclear which money went where of course, but despite working her way and getting EMA, and with little spending, she was still considerably worse off than I, who did not receive EMA. People will of course always bring up those whose parents do fund their education, who use EMA for drinks and shopping. But, do we deny students a life outside education? One could argue that isn’t the point, because the problem is with it coming out of taxpayers’ money. Is that true? If the parents were not confident that their children were not having a fulfilling social life and could not afford new clothes, but education was affordable, then the parent would spend their money on other aspects of their child’s well-being. Instead, most parents who can afford it tend to use their money to ensure their child is getting the best out of their education, which may include trips, and continue to make sure their child has a standard level of food and clothing, and so the EMA goes on the more frivolous aspects of life which are also vital to social development, and therefore can be useful for work later. My point is, the amount spent by the taxpayer in both scenarios is the same, and who is to say which money goes where?

Do not get me wrong. I do not think, and have never thought that EMA was a good system. Some people can still barely afford college, and others on EMA receive better things because of it than some of those whose parents earn too much for them to get it. Not everybody’s parents fund their education or social life after 16. On top of that, some people have abusive parents, and they aren’t always from working class backgrounds. Some have the time to work and others do not, and some are on more expensive courses than others. Different people need to travel further. If it were up to me then at the very least, public transport to the education building would be free for those who cannot afford it, if not for everybody, and same with meals and basic equipment, suited to the department. Poorer people would, again depending on the department, have stamps or a funding account that was accessible to the college shop (or similar) to get most of the rest of the equipment. There could be recommendations made by the courses for how much/many, and when, would be suitable for points transactions. This could include trips in special cases, like France for a French student. On top of this, a smaller fund, more similar to the spending other students get, could be given every week, to allow for small savings, necessary clothing, extra materials, hobbies (like music lessons) or the odd night out. With all other things included, this would probably need be no more that £10 a week for those living at home, and would not discourage students who want an active social life or to buy the latest thing from working, nor would it mean that a poorer person studying should have to meet extra expectations about their working:social times than those who are better off. Less importantly, it would decrease bitterness of those ‘on the line’ from receiving EMA, who do not have their parents spend anywhere near £30 a week on them.

That wasn’t a proposal, by the way. I wanted to admit that there are problems with EMA so as so better combat the coalition’s solutions. I am not saying in any way that EMA could not use a reform. The point remains though, that taking it away entirely would absolutely tear away the chances for some people, like my friend. The coalition’s problem though, is that there aren’t enough people who would not afford to go without it.

“The Government argues that the impact generated by the EMA does not justify the £560 million spent on this policy in England. Underpinning this argument is a finding from some qualitative research. One of the questions asked those who were in receipt of EMA what they would do in its absence: only 12% reported that they would not be in education. The Government infers from this that the EMA policy carries a ‘deadweight’ of 88%, i.e. 88 out of every 100 students receiving EMA would still have been in education if EMA did not exist and are therefore being paid to do something they would have done anyway. “

It carries on… ( )

“But the EMA may have other benefits: those who receive EMA and would have stayed in education regardless of it might still benefit educationally through other channels: for example through better attendance, or more study time as a result of not having to take on a part-time job. Moreover, even if the EMA had no impact on educational outcomes it would still represent a transfer of resources to low-income households with children, which may in its own right represent a valuable policy objective.”

This is backed up by…

“Evidence from the LSC, CfBT and DCSF all suggests that EMA has had a significant impact on participation, retention and achievement of learners from poor backgrounds. Linking payment to attendance at classes was probably the main reason for its success. However, it created a huge administrative burden for colleges (originally funded as part of the scheme” ( )

Another great site, whilst I’m at it is—education-maintenance-allowance

It seems that this idea is coming out of the scheme to get all under-18s to stay in school instead of working. Now, without going into aspects of personal choice and the pros and cons of staying in school as it stands, lets hang on a minute and take a closer look. So with the assumption that creative courses will either be severely cut in colleges, or that participation in full time courses will be limited to those with money, or who know exactly what they are doing with their life, and the cost of transporting kids to college unless they want to do something they could just do at their local 6th forms could change the format altogether, how much choice are we giving this generation about their direction? Will schools start teaching archaeology, latin, law, european studies, forensics and media? Or will students not planning on going into vocation, who no longer have the money for college be expected to do another 2 years of the same as in school? What are they being trained for here? If many of them would rather be sanitation officers and shop workers or jobs that require less training anyway, which of course, they will, then do we need to force them to spend another 2 years in a top down government approved system, on subjects they may never use? Given easier access many would learn for the sake of wanting to learn, but with these amendments, and a look at what Gove has planned for schooling, this is just another step in changing education from part of our life long learning and our right and choice, into forcing the majority to go through education like a factory and come out the other side a zombie trained to work and take orders. I cannot help but question though, what the elite classes want with a full working class versed well in further maths and biology (cuts to arts and humanities right?) and with little experience working, or being able to afford the vocations that our country is not in great need of. Truth is, the only places we need more workers are in the services being cut, (carers, certain areas of social work and nursing) as well as medicine (push to privitising health, so not necessarily contradictory) and engineering.

Of course, I am looking at worst case scenarios, and I think I must have missed something, because it isn’t adding up to me. believe me, I have been through the internet looking for conservative explanations that actually offer answers, but perhaps not well enough.

Lets just remember that the vote to scrap EMA will be put to parliament in Jan, and if we want to save this, whether we go to London, can campaign from our universities, or from our home towns, whether you believe in protesting and lobbying for electoral reform, or in forcing the hand of the power through direct action, or showing dissidence at a bad move, or in educating others about the problems with the education and economic plans, please take the time to do SOMEthing.

Friday 7th January: Nick Clegg’s surprise party

“Can you help us throw a special birthday bash for Nick? Do you have any musical talent to bring to the kettle orchestra? Have you a skill for arts and crafts you could put into Nick’s present? We’d love to hear your suggestions at”

Wednesday 26th January: Day X4 to defend EMA

Saturday 29th January: No Fees, No Cuts! Defend Education & the Public Sector!

Sunday 30th January: National assembly for education

Central London, to bring together and coordinate action between students and workers resisting attacks on education.

Network X in Manchester

A FREE awareness gig in Manc

16 January at 16:30

29 January at 12:00

More austerity cuts coming soon to the public sector!


From → LOLCⒶT, Opinion

  1. sign me up

    • The occupation isn’t on at the moment but if you want to get involved, talking to Lincoln Stop the Cuts or Socialist Students Lincoln (you don’t have to join obviously) would be the quickest. There’s a march tomorrow in Manchester, and London on March 26th. We will be looking at actions before then. You can find Lincoln occupation as well as these 2 groups on facebook. We will hopefully have a meeting with teaching staff and management soon and will try to publicise this at the time. I hope that helps. Repealing the decision on EMA is one of our priorities.

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