Incentives to Learn: Remuneration, Recruitment, Retention, Results. The Effectiveness of the Discretionary Financial Award the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) in Truro College. (BERA Paper September 2000)

  • Tanya Ovenden-Hope

In 1994 the Further Education Funding Council (FEFC) established the Widening Participation Committee, chaired by Helena Kennedy QC, to advise on ways in which it could encourage more people to participate and succeed in Further Education (Kennedy, 1997). This committee commissioned the Policy Studies Institute (PSI) to investigate secondary research on financial support for students in Further Education (Herbert and Callender, 1997). The resulting reports of the FEFC (Kennedy, 1997) and the PSI (Herbert and Callender, 1997) encouraged Government interest and support for the introduction of a pilot Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). It was argued that a financial incentive may help to stop post-16 students from low-income families from potentially seeking employment after compulsory schooling, from dropping out because of financial pressures or reducing their results by taking pert-time employment to support themselves during the course (Callender and Kempson, 1996, Kennedy, 1997, Herbert and Callender, 1997).

The Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) is a means-tested allowance given by the Local Education Authority (LEA) to full-time students (aged 16-19 years) in post-compulsory education from low-income families. The EMA is a pilot provision and began in September 1999 and will run for three years. It was introduced to support the Governments commitment to Lifelong Learning and widening participation in Further Education (Kennedy, 1997. Fryer Report, 1998). It is also a way of testing whether financial incentives has any effect on the participation and retention of young people from low-income families in post-16 full-time education courses (DFEE, 2000).

There are four models of EMA that have initially been piloted in 15 LEAs, however from September 2000 a further 40 LEAs will be providing EMAs to students.

The 15 original LEAs were Bolton, City of Nottingham, Cornwall, Doncaster, Gateshead, Leeds, London (Greenwich), London (Lambeth), London (Lewisham), London (Southwark), Middlesborough, Oldham, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent and Walsall. The additional 25 LEAs providing EMAs include two new regions; Eastern (Suffolk) and Merseyside (Liverpool, Knowsley, Halton, Wirral and St. Helens), and extend provision in the West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humberside, London, North East, North West, South East and East Midlands.

The four models of EMAs established by the Government vary in the amount of money paid to students on a weekly basis, to whom it is paid (student or parents) and the amount for retention (full attendance) and achievement (successful completion of the course). In Cornwall 16 year old students on full-time F.E. courses receive direct up to 30 weekly, 50 termly and 50 at the end of the course (dependent on parental income - a full grant is based on a parental income of less than 13,000). However, nation-wide, eligible students can receive up to 40 at the end of each week during term time, based on full attendance or approved absences and a parental income under 30,000 per year. Nationally bonuses for termly full attendance can be as much as 80, with a final bonus for successful completion of the course of up to 140.

The Department for Employment and Education has commissioned a large-scale evaluation of the pilot EMA to assess its impact on participation, retention and achievement (Loughborough University, The Institute for Employment Research, National Centre for Social Research and the Institute of Fiscal Studies). This research will be conducted over four years and will provide the largest source of data on young people in the UK. This information will be invaluable to the analysis of financial implications to participation, retention and achievement in Further Education, especially considering that there has been little analytical research on the funding of students in Further Education (Herbert and Callender, 1997).

Britain, unlike the United States, has no history of conducting research on the relationship between participation and student support in further education. Most British studies that have examined participation, retention and achievement in Further Education have not considered the impact of financial support, focusing instead on social class. Data collected by studies in the United States (Coleman, 1966) and Australia (Dearden and Heath, 1996) has produced quantitative analyses of large data sets to model the effects of receiving financial aid on participation and retention. There have also been sociological studies in the UK (Davies, 1999) to explain why students leave college in relation to finances. I shall attempt to apply these studies to the aims of my research, thereby providing a detailed review of the recent implications of the EMA as a financial incentive for improving participation, retention and achievement in full-time Further Education courses.