NUS warns thousands of Welsh students may not be able to afford uni unless loans increase

The Education Maintenance Allowance hasn’t increased in over 20 years

The National Union of Students (NUS) has started a new campaign to increase the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) given to students in order to deal with the skyrocketing cost of living in the UK.

EMA is a weekly payment of £30 to help 16 to 18-year-olds with the costs of further education. Payments are made every two weeks as long as you meet your school or college’s attendance, performance and behaviour requirements. This education maintenance allowance is provided by the government in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales.

However, the maintenance allowance has not increased in the past 20 years since the scheme was introduced in 2004. This has led students to feel that they are being priced out of an education.

The UK is dealing with the highest inflation rate in the last 40 years of 11.1 per cent and the low amount of allowance which has been constant since 2004 is not making up for the spike in rent, food, and energy bills. 

The main aim of NUS’ campaign is to create a tailored cost-of-living support package and to increase the student maintenance package and apprentice minimum wage in line with the living wage.

Plaid Cymru MS Luke Fletcher said, “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 employment.

“What we need to see from the Welsh Government in the first instance is an assurance that EMA is a priority for them.”

According to NUS, this is how the cost of living crisis has been affecting students. NUS’s cost of living study in 2022 revealed a third of students are left with just £50 a month after rent and bills, 96 per cent of students across the UK are cutting back on spending, 68 per cent of students can’t afford course materials and 92 per cent of students report that the crisis is impacting their mental health.

Any person under 18 who is paid the minimum wage which is £4.81 per hour leads to earning up to £9235.20 in a year and anyone who is 18 who is paid the minimum wage which is £5.28 leads up to earning 10,173.60 in a 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.”

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