UK Politics

Further education colleges fear 'bursary shortfall'

Students protesting about the scrapping of EMA earlier this year
Image caption The scrapping of EMA sparked a wave of student protests during the winter

Some further education colleges do not believe they have been given enough money for a new bursary scheme to meet the needs of their students, according to the Association of Colleges.

The body said the total funding for the bursaries in England was almost £65m lower than it had expected.

The bursaries replace the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), weekly payments to students from low income families which are being axed.

Officials said funding had not changed.

'Concerned calls'

A Department for Education consultation published in March said the government would introduce a fund worth £180m per academic year from September.

But the department has confirmed only £115.5m will be made available this year, rising to £180m in future years.

It said the full amount was not needed because so many students would benefit from a £194m transitional fund that will see some who already get EMA continuing to receive the payments.

Julian Gravatt, assistant chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said more than 20 institutions had expressed concerns about the funding situation.

"The colleges have done the sums and they reckon they've got more students in the priority groups than there'll be able to properly fund with the money they've got," he said.

"We've had a number of calls from college principals and managers who are concerned that they won't have enough money to meet the needs of their students who are going to be enrolling this September."

The Department for Education insisted there had been "no change in funding".

"The 16-19 Bursary Fund is worth £180m a year," a spokesman said.

"In its first year of operation this will be administered in part through local arrangements and in part through a national payments system for transitional support to make sure that pupils already studying don't lose out.

"In total for 2011-12 we are spending over £300m on financial support for young people."

He added: "The EMA was very expensive and a range of studies have shown that it only encouraged a small proportion of those receiving it to stay on.

"That's why this new Bursary Fund will target cash at those who genuinely face financial barriers to staying on in education."

Move opposed

Colleges, which will administer the bursaries, were told how much money they would get on Friday.

Under the bursary scheme 12,000 of the most vulnerable 16-19 year olds will get guaranteed bursaries worth £1,200 a year.

Schools and colleges will distribute the rest of the money to any students who face financial barriers to staying in education.

It will be down to schools and colleges to decide which students are eligible for the discretionary payments.

The Association of Colleges, which opposed the scrapping of the EMA, said its members could fund the guaranteed payments but were a "long way short" of being able to make substantial further payments to students receiving free school meals.

Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham said: "The scrapping of EMA and its replacement by a bursary fund has been mismanaged from start to finish.

"Now, with just three months to go until the start of the academic year the government has admitted that the fund will be £65m less than they announced in March.

"[Education Secretary] Michael Gove has taken a successful scheme that provided good value to the taxpayer and turned it into a complete shambles, leaving many students in the dark over what financial support will be available."