STUDENTS on Wearside will still suffer, despite the Government announcing a new bursary scheme, union officials claimed today.
The £180million bursary scheme to replace the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), which was controversially scrapped last year, has been given a lukewarm reception in the region.
Although colleges and unions welcome extra money, the amount is far short of the former EMA pot of £560millon, which provided £30-a-week to help low-income students stay on at sixth forms and colleges.
Ian Owens, regional officer for the University and College Union, said: “It is still a cut of two thirds and it will mean that in a city like Sunderland, where there is a much higher than average percentage of disadvantaged students, it is going to have a disproportionate effect.”
Education Secretary Michael Gove (pictured) said the revised system would provide more targeted support for those in greatest need and colleges will make discretionary payments to support low-income students with costs such as transport, food and books.
Students who are already on courses and receiving EMA will continue to get this money until the end of the next academic year, but at a reduced rate.
Nigel Harrett, vice principal for curriculum and student support at City of Sunderland College, said: “As yet we have not been told what amount of funding we will have to use for our students.
“What we do know is that this new pot of support is going to be significantly smaller than what we have previously had to offer and therefore fewer students will be able to benefit and this is a real concern for us.
“We will ensure that all funds we do receive are allocated to the students that need it most.”
A spokesman for East Durham College said: “We welcome the fact that Government has found additional money when compared to the original expected amount of £75million. But £180million is still a considerable decrease on the £500million-plus used for EMA.
“The need for clarification is now extremely urgent. Colleges need clarity as soon as possible so they can pass on relevant information to their potential students hoping to enrol in September.”
Sharon Hodgson, Washington and Sunderland West MP and Shadow Education Minister, said: “While I welcome this partial U-turn, the lack of detail is astounding. This lack of clarity about who will get what will be at the forefront of the minds of many young people in Sunderland who are making the decision to stay on or not right now.”
Robert Oliver, Sunderland Conservative Party spokesman for education, said: “The new bursary scheme targets support at those who need it most, many of whom will receive more than they did under the EMA. It is also socially just to spend scarce resources on the poorest and ensure the funds go towards travel and food costs so that it is properly spent.”