This week Michael Gove announced the government's plans to replace the £550m Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) with a £180m bursary scheme.
There was also a small victory for the Save EMA campaign as the government listened to our "A Deal's A Deal" campaign, which threatened a legal challenge unless the government provided support to those students currently receiving EMA who started courses on the premise that they would receive financial support throughout their two-year course.
However, although we have won this battle, the war to save EMA continues, in full.
The government has reduced the funding for the replacement of EMA by around 70 per cent. In addition, it is giving a meagre 77p-a-week increase to only 12,000 students, while many of their classmates – who could be only very marginally better off – probably would not qualify for the new scheme whereas they would have under EMA.
For example, if a student starts a course in September this year he or she won't get the replacement for EMA (the Discretionary Learner Support Fund), whereas they would have got EMA if they came from a family whose household income was below £31,000 a year. More importantly, if their family's annual income is below £21,000 a year – like 80 per cent of EMA recipients – they will be bereft of financial support.
This is clearly not an adequate replacement for the previous scheme.
In a review of Gove's announcement of the government's substitute for EMA, the independent research organisation the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) today agrees with us and strongly critiques the replacement scheme.
Here are the key findings of the IFS:
On the government's claim of giving children on free school meals (FSM) £800 more than under EMA, the IFS claims these students could actually be "worse off":
It must be the case that most such students would be worse off under the bursary scheme than they would have been under the EMA – on average, to the tune of £370 a year. Furthermore, allocating the bursary fund in this way implies that other EMA recipients not currently eligible for free school meals would in future receive nothing.
The IFS also claims it could also have an affect on attainment levels:
. . . if students must apply for the bursary after enrolment, then they will not know, when applying for a place in post-16 education, whether they will receive a bursary – and if so, how much. This could have an impact on their decision to stay on in the first place.
But what is most shocking is that the IFS believes the new scheme could actually have more "dead weight " than EMA:
It could be given to high-achieving, low-income students – perhaps the type of students who would have stayed in full-time education anyway.
It is yet more evidence that the last thing we should be doing is scrapping EMA. If the scheme the government wants to replace it with is clearly more inadequate than EMA, why are we even considering wasting taxpayers' money changing it?
James Mills is campaign director of the Save EMA campaign.