Grant axe leads to drop-out fears

Students at East Durham College studying Sports and Exercise Science, Kirsty Bryson, Brook McLinden, Lauren Watts and Keri Wakelam are upset they will lose their EMA.
Students at East Durham College studying Sports and Exercise Science, Kirsty Bryson, Brook McLinden, Lauren Watts and Keri Wakelam are upset they will lose their EMA.
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SCRAPPING grants for the poorest teenagers will force many off courses, claim college leaders and students.

Moves by the Labour party to overturn the axing of Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) failed yesterday when MPs voted in favour of the plan.

Now, hundreds of students in Sunderland and East Durham could be left struggling to meet the financial commitment of attending their college courses.

Colleges across the country, including City of Sunderland, have condemned the move, claiming it will lead to a rise in the number of 17-year-olds not in education.

At East Durham College, students were disappointed by the result of the vote saying they are worried about how they will manage to attend their courses, with most saying the EMA is used on bus fares, food and books.

Lauren Watts, 16, a Btec Sport and A-level student, said: “I am devastated about it. During the holidays I had a job which was great, but during term time the EMA means I can concentrate on my studies because I have a lot of homework to do.”

Although Lauren says her family will financially support her to finish her course, she said for some people it is not so easy.

Keri Wakelam, 17, does not get the EMA herself, but says friends are very worried.

She said: “Some of my friends have been saying they might have to drop out of college because they come from Middlesbrough and just won’t be able to afford the bus fare.”

Kyle Davis, 18, from Hetton, who is studying for a foundation degree in Sport Science, said he used to get the EMA and it was a massive help to him.

He said: “My bus fares alone were £15 a week and that was subsidised, so for some it will mean leaving college.”

Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, said she was extremely disappointed with the loss of the vote to save the allowance, which provides grants of up to £30 a week for 16-19-year-olds whose families are on low incomes.

She said: “EMA is a vital part of the decision to stay on in education for so many young people – the vast majority of those who claim it live in households with an income of less than £21,000. Not one of the Tory or Lib Dem MPs spoke up for these young people today, and that is absolutely shameful.”

However, Coun Robert Oliver, Conservative spokesman for education in Sunderland, said: “Costing half a billion pounds a year the EMA tends to increase participation in education, but a study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies estimated that 88 per cent of recipients would have stayed on without the payments.”

He said the Government’s plans for a new allowance for poor students will benefit young people in Sunderland.

Angela O’Donaghue, principal at City of Sunderland College, believes the number of young people not in education could rise as much as 25 per cent with the scrapping of the EMA and said the consequences of this decision will be dire for Wearside.

And, Stuart Wesselby, principal at East Durham College, where 84 per cent of students receive the EMA, said not only will the disadvantaged young people in County Durham suffer, but the move will quash any ambitions of ministers to raise the participation age of young people in education to 18.

He said: “EMAs are restricted to low-income households. They are a vital tool for increasing social mobility.”

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