Thousands of Welsh students could be priced out of further education NUS warns
Thousands of sixth form and college students in Wales are at risk of being priced out of education because of a maintenance grant that hasn’t gone up in their lifetimes.
National Union of Students (NUS) Wales has launched a campaign to urge the Welsh Government to increase Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) to reflect the cost of learning and to expand eligibility so more students can qualify for support.
EMA is a weekly £30 grant designed to support 16 to 18-year-olds in Wales, from low incomes households, with further education costs.
But despite spiralling cost of living increases over the last two decades, EMA has not gone up once since it was introduced in 2004.
Around 17,000 further education students rely on EMA to continue learning but, in the context of a cost of living crisis NUS Wales warns it’s no longer fit for purpose and without a change thousands of students in Wales risk being priced out of further education.
Plaid Cymru MS Luke Fletcher began a campaign to increase EMA in line with inflation by launching a nationwide survey earlier this year.
Orla Tarn, NUS Wales President, said: “Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) is vital in supporting young people from low income backgrounds through further education. But at just £30 a week, it’s not fit for purpose.
“Even before the cost of living crisis, EMA didn’t go far enough to support students in further education. The fact that it hasn’t increased in almost two decades proves it needs to be updated to reflect the needs of learners today.
“We were pleased to see the Welsh Government back a motion by Plaid Cymru MS Luke Fletcher to review EMA.
“Now we’re urging them to take the next steps to ensure young people aren’t priced out of education.”
Speaking about the EMA survey earlier this month, Mr Fletcher said: “As the cost of living deepens, it has become even more important that young people’s voices are heard and that the support schemes available to them are fit for purpose and working as they should be.
“There is a very real concern among education providers in relation to the payment as it stands that learners are dropping out of education because they feel that they would be better off financially taking up full-time in employment.
“What we need to see from the Welsh Government in the first instance is an assurance that EMA is a priority for them.”
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EMA was abolished in England in 2010. Calls for its return there have been muted, to say the least. Would raising it in Wales really be a good use of use of Welsh Government funds? If so, what should be cut to pay for it?