Education Maintenance Allowance was ‘good value for money’, says Milburn
By Richard Johnstone | 18 October 2012
Alan Milburn, the government’s independent reviewer on social mobility and child poverty, has criticised the coalition’s decision to abolish the Education Maintenance Allowance.
The former Labour health secretary said today the £30 weekly payment to children from poorer families who stayed at school past the age of 16, had represented ‘good value for money’ in increasing educational participation and attainment.
The replacement of the allowance, which was paid to 650,000 young people, with a smaller Bursary Fund in 2011 was ‘inadequate’, he said. There is now ‘legitimate cause for concern that these changes may have a negative impact on widening participation’ in higher education.
Milburn’s University challenge: how higher education can advance social mobility report recommended the government increase the funding level of the bursary scheme, which pays £1,200 a year to around 12,000 young people.
Universities should also consider providing EMA-style incentives for young people to stay on at school as the current range of outreach programmes aimed at widening participation are ‘not particularly effective’, he added.
The report predicted spending by the sector on such initiatives would reach £613m by 2015/16, primarily in bursaries and other financial support to students.
Milburn argued this expenditure could be ‘better focused’ by switching from bursaries and fee waivers to financial support for disadvantaged pupils to stay on at school. This would have the biggest impact on helping poorer children into higher education, he said, and he called on the independent Office for Fair Access should report on whether they are doing so.
Offa said that it would ‘actively consider’ the recommendation. Director Professor Les Ebdon said Milburn ‘recognises the importance of universities working with schools and communities, getting involved in mentoring, masterclasses, summer schools and so forth’.
He added: ‘As the report says, this needs to start early in the school career, so that young people get the information they need to make the choices that enable them to go to higher education, for example choices about which subjects to study.
‘Sustained, targeted outreach is key to improving access to higher education for students with the potential to succeed at university or college.’
Educational charity the Sutton Trust also said there was a need for ‘a greater focus on outreach activities by universities’.
Chair Sir Peter Lampl said: ‘University access funds could be better spent on outreach and summer schools where the impact is greatest. Getting able students to apply to university in the first place – especially our leading universities – is the biggest challenge and Alan Milburn is right to say so.
‘We believed that the government was wrong to scrap the Education Maintenance Allowance, and consideration should be given to new ways of funding an alternative.’
Rick Muir, associate director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, said the report was right to argue that too much money was being spent on fee waivers with little evidence that they encourage more applications from young people from poorer families.
‘Far better to spend this money on school and college outreach and support poorer teenagers who have lost their EMA to help more young people to take A-levels,’ he said.