Education Maintenance Allowance

Scottish Executive Question Time — General Questions – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:40 am on 2nd December 2010.

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Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party 11:40 am, 2nd December 2010

To ask the Scottish Government whether it plans to make changes to the education maintenance allowance. (S3O-12220)

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

In the draft budget statement on 17 November 2010, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth announced plans to protect the education maintenance allowance scheme for the remainder of this academic year and the next academic year. That is consistent with the Government's commitment to support the least well-off students in Scotland and to open up opportunities for poorer families.

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

I thank the cabinet secretary for that response, which will be welcome news to young people across Scotland. What maintenance support will be available for those 16 to 19-year-olds who attend courses at education centres such as Dundee College in my constituency?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

In addition to securing the education maintenance allowance—which, of course, has not happened south of the border—we are committed to ensuring that the level of support for students in the coming year remains consistent with this year's level. That has been very difficult to achieve, but it has been achieved, and I welcome the support of, for example, the NUS for that. In addition, the number of places that are available in colleges and universities will be maintained, which is a considerable achievement, for which I pay tribute to the college principals and boards of governors and the universities.

Photo of Marlyn Glen Marlyn Glen Labour

I certainly welcome the retention of EMA, but many questions remain. Will it be kept in its current form? In Dundee, for example, the number of applications for EMA has fallen by almost 40 per cent since the first year of the present Government, as a result of changes such as the lowering of the parental income threshold and the scrapping of the £20 and £10 payments. Last year, NUS Scotland estimated that those changes would lead to more than 7,000 students in the 2007-08 intake dropping out of participation or attending classes less regularly.

Photo of Marlyn Glen Marlyn Glen Labour

Are there further plans to change the thresholds? Will the minister instruct local authorities to continue paying EMA after this month?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I reassure the member and the chamber that, as I have said, there are no planned changes to the EMA. The EMA programme overspent in 2009-10 and it was necessary to look at it extremely carefully. I made a commitment to review it in December this year. In the process of the budget discussions, I was very keen to defend the EMA, which I think is highly effective. I am glad to say that that has happened—student support is being maintained. These are exceptionally difficult times, but I know that the poorest in society need the most help. We are targeting them most effectively, which I remind the chamber is not something that others have chosen to do. The fact that we have made it a priority to support students will have an effect on education. [ Interruption .] I hope that the member and all other members, including the one who is shouting, welcome that commitment, because it should be welcomed by the entire chamber.