EMA is an educational grant of up to £30 a week which is given to young people in further education if certain conditions are met. The Assembly Executive has had EMA in its sights for nearly three years. The proposed cuts in winter 2010 were pushed back by thousands of students protesting in Belfast and Derry. The Executive is going after EMA again even though all of the parties stated they had a position of protecting keeping EMA from cuts in the May 2011 election. This new attempt by the Assembly to remove EMA is just another example of how politicians don’t care about young people – Catholic or Protestant.
A cut to EMA will most likely be voted on in Stormont sometime before the summer but details of when this will be have been very limited. This is an attempt by the Assembly to prevent a campaign of students being launched against the cut.
Due to the opposition from school students the Assembly Executive at this point is not strong enough to scrap EMA in an exact parallel to what happened in England in 2010. Although with O’Dowd and Farry at the helm of education, EMA look set to be cut beyond recognition which will in practice result in fewer students having access to EMA and with lower payments. It could very possibly pan out that one large cut to EMA now could be used as an excuse to remove EMA in another two years.
Students unions must oppose any cuts to EMA!
Recently NUS-USI (Students union body Northern Ireland) representatives have very publically been meeting with Ministers in negotiations over EMA cuts. NUS-USI is meant to represent students and have stated it is “trying to get the best deal for students” on EMA. But actually in these meetings the NUS-USI representatives have incredibly proposed their own cuts to EMA, despite having absolutely no democratic mandate to do so. Students must hold NUS-USI representatives to account.
Bizarrely, the politicians justify cuts to EMA from their own Departments research that only a third of further education students would have to leave education if EMA was scrapped. Firstly a third of students being forced to leave education should not be accepted. Secondly it would just be used in turn to cut college courses and lecturers jobs. In research carried out by the Assembly Executive, they contradict themselves by finding that the majority of students (irrelevant of EMA) would have to keep a part-time job to stay in education anyway.
Youth Fight for Jobs & Education (YFJE) says rather than EMA being cut, it should be doubled as a step towards a living grant for students so that everyone has access to education and that access includes not having to work while in full time education.
YFJE along with organisations such as Belfast Met Students Union and Socialist Youth will be organising students in a co-ordinated way, including student strikes and school walkouts. To mount a serious campaign to prevent education cuts will require a large amount of organising, such as handing out leaflets and discussing with groups of students. This is why any student against education cuts should get involved in YFJE now!