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

  • Tanya Ovenden-Hope


  • EMAs are 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.

  • The EMA was introduced to support the Governments commitment to Lifelong Learning and widening participation in Further Education (Kennedy, 1997. Fryer Report, 1998)

  • 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.
  • 15 original LEAs - Bolton, City of Nottingham, Cornwall, Doncaster, Gateshead, Leeds, London (Greenwich), London (Lambeth), London (Lewisham), London (Southwark), Middlesborough, Oldham, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Walsall.

  • The four models 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)

  • 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).


  • Truro College, Cornwall.

  • Tertiary Further and Higher Education College.

  • 1,950 full-time students in Years 1 and 2 of Further Education courses.

  • In LEA for pilot EMA.

  • Cornwall one of the poorest counties in the UK.

  • Financial hardship for students argued to negatively affect participation, retention and achievement rates (Steedman and Young, 1996).

  • Will EMA improve student participation, retention and achievement?

  • 2 year study of full-time students on F.E. courses (1999-2001) applying quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis.

  • Aims of the research

    1. To evaluate the effect of the EMA on:

    1.1 Participation (recruitment) in full-time Further Education courses for young people from low-income households.

    1.2 Retention in full-time Further Education courses for young people from low-income households.

    1.3 Achievement (results) in full-time Further Education courses for young people from low-income households.

    2. To identify the extent to which a financial incentive (remuneration) can improve post-16 recruitment, retention and results in Truro College.


    'Lack of Literature'

    There has been little analytical research on the funding of students in Further Education (Herbert and Callender, 1997). Unfortunately 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 both a positivist and interpretivist approach.

    Data Collection and Analysis

    1. Data collected by the college for student cohort 1997-1999 (Year 1 and 2) examined as a base line (control) for students not receiving an EMA and participation, retention and achievement levels. This information will be compared to data collected by the college for the student cohort 1999-2001 who will include EMA recipients.

    2. The data will be analysed (applying basic statistical testing) and presented using SPSSX.


    Difficulties tracking down the data. Comparative analysis of data difficult based on changes in the recording of data.

    3. Pilot fieldwork will be conducted to establish reliable and valid data collection. A stratified sample of Year 1 students in receipt of the EMA will take part in a semi-structured interview to establish valid questions for a questionnaire of all EMA recipients. The qualitative data collected by the initial interview will also be examined to assess the students' attitude to the EMA at the beginning of the pilot.


    Very poor response rate to interview requests resulted in a change of data collection strategy.
    A pilot questionnaire was issued to a single tutor group and amended for distribution to all Year One full-time students on F.E. courses. The final question of the questionnaire asked for students to volunteer to be interviewed on the subject of the EMA. The response rate for this sampling method was much better, with 74 students volunteering to be interviewed (14% of EMA recipients in the College). Is this research method acceptable?

    4. The questionnaire was issued in term 2 of Year 1 (1999-2000) to all Year One full-time students on F.E. courses aged 16 (883 students). The total response rate was 66%, however the response rate for EMA students was 70% (538 students receiving or applied for EMAs, 377 EMA student responses).


    ***95% of students receiving, or who had applied for, EMAs understood the objectives of the EMA.

    ***The majority of EMA students did not believe that the EMA effected their participation in Further Education (62%).

    ***Just over half of the EMA students (52%) believed that the EMA (requiring full attendance to receive the weekly and termly allowance) had a direct effect on their attendance. This is an interesting result as increased attendance may have a positive effect on achievement.

    ***The majority of EMA students (61%) believed that retention had not been affected by the EMA.

    ***The majority of EMA students (70%) believed that the amount paid to students by the EMA was adequate to support them financially throughout their studies.

    "(325) 30 a week Reason stationary paperbacks books bus fare"

    "(470) At the moment it seems about the right amount"

    "(472) 30 a week Reason because it helps with resources but also can go to educational trips"

    "(35)30 a week Reason it covers most of my equipment and bus fares every term"

    "(10) 30 a week Reason enables you to have that little bit more for trips and other things"

    ***The vast majority of EMA students (91%) believe that the EMA is a good idea. The main reasons put forward to justify this positive response was that it:

  • Helps with travel expenses to attend College.

  • Helps with buying equipment for courses.

  • Helps to fund trips necessary for courses.

  • Takes the pressure off having to undertake part-time employment.

  • Encourages student attendance.

  • "(247) Encourages people to go to college"

    "(279) Helps towards things for college and transport"

    "(250) Helps with money so that you can go to college"

    "(224) Because you can pay for bus passes etc."

    "(221) Covers cost of my weekly travel"

    "(218) Students doing full time courses don't have time to go out and earn money"

    "(201) Allows me to buy valuable equipment"

    "(197) Helps you to buy items needed for the course"

    "(194) Encourage attendance"

    "(187) It allows me to study rather than working a lot"

    "(116) Vital for books, paper, equipment, bus passes etc."

    "(12) It helps to pay for things that you may not have been able to afford eg. College trips"

    "(76) You don't have to have a job"

    "(86) Helps out with books and bus passes"
    "(407) Allows people to continue without having to leave for lack of money"
    "(319) Gives an incentive to continue with college, helps out financially"
    "(464) It encourages going to lectures"

    5. Tutors were asked for their comments about the EMA in term 2 Year One (1999-2000). 38% of tutors responded. This data will be compared to data collected by semi-structured interviews in Year Two (2000-2001).


    The majority of Tutors (83%) believe that the EMA has not improved attendance, which suggests that it will not affect achievement in the future. This is interesting, because the students believe that the EMA does improve attendance. There was a general belief among Tutors that students were 'working the system' by not attending, but were still receiving their weekly EMA cheque.

    "Administration system is poorly thought through. Currently any student can self-certificate all absences and therefore this by passes the personal tutor. Exactly what is the objective of the EMA? If it is to money into the local economy then it is successful. If it is to evaluate an increase in student attendance then I am sceptical."

    "Some students have accessed it already. Some students are still waiting. Some students still receive full EMA although they do not attend full-time, which just 1) mocks the system 2) mocks encouraging students to attend 3) allows for 'I can do what I want because I'll still get my money' attitude! Only come to college for the EMA "easy money."

    "1)The students on EMA seem to be the worst attenders! 2) It's a lot of extra work to complete the 'Student Attendance' forms. 3) I thought you might be interested to learn I've had a phone call from a parent who is worried that her son has too much cash and is using it to buy pot!!! 4) Resentment in students that don't receive it as those who do are perceived to be spending it on going out etc. and not books/equipment for college; also bones for full attendance. Perceived as unfair as it should be an incentive available to all students. Generally perceived as a good idea, but unfair in the uses the money is put to!"

    "EMA students seem to be my lowest attenders. A nightmare in terms of wasteful tutorial time and paper pushing."

    "Unfair system - some students "abusing" absence reasons and self certificate submissions."

    "I think the EMA is very supportive for the students in general. Their attendance needs to be monitored carefully so that it works. For many of my group it is a real help allowing them to pursue a course, which would be financially impossible otherwise. For some it is extra "drinks and entertainment" money-this concerns me!"


    6. Unstructured interview with Director of Studies, Truro College (responsible for EMA in College) to act as pilot for interview schedule and to collect data on opinions of effectiveness of the EMA (Year 1, late August, post one year course assessment). The refined semi-structured interview will then be conducted on a stratified sample of College Tutors (responsible for students receiving the EMA) (Term 1, Year 2 - post one-year course assessment). I will then interview the Director's of Studies of the other three colleges in the LEA (Term 2, Year 2, post two-year course mock examinations).

    7. Questionnaire to all Year Two students to examine changes in attitudes towards the EMA.

    8. The qualitative data collected from all interviews will be analysed using traditional ethnographic correlation, assisted by Word 7, which can categorise responses to assist interpretation of responses. All quantitative data collected will be analysed (applying basic statistical testing) and presented using SPSSX, to examine any points for generalisations.

    9. All data collected will be analysed systematically and continuously throughout the investigation.

    10. All findings will be related to appropriate and relevant theory and previous studies.

    Any information, advice or support you may be able to offer on this research topic would be very much appreciated. I can be contacted at

    Truro College: 01872 264251


    Coleman, J. (1966) Equality of Educational Opportunity. Washington, US Office of Education.

    Davies, P. (1999) Student retention in further education: a problem of quality or finance? BERA Annual Conference, 2 -5 September.

    Dearden, L. and Heath, A. (1996) Income support and staying in school; what can we learn from Australia's AUSTUDY experiment? Fiscal Studies, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 1-30.

    Fryer, R. H. (1998) Learning for the twenty-first century. First Report for the National Advisory Group for Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning, November 1998.

    Herbert, A. and Callender, C. (1997) The Funding Lottery: Student Financial Support in Further Education and Its Impact on Participation. London, Policy Studies Institute.

    Kennedy, H. (1997) Learning Works: Widening Participation in Further Education. Coventry, FEFC