AN allowance for the worst-off students in Northern Ireland worth up to £30 a week is to be retained.
The scheme was introduced to encourage young people from lower income backgrounds to remain in education after the age of 16. Children from households with income of £20,500 or less will be eligible, Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry said.
Around 4,500 students whose families earn more than that are projected to lose their Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) next year but a much greater number will retain it.
Mr Farry said: “This decision now represents an appropriately targeted and financially sustainable way forward on EMA.” Currently many students between GCSE and degree level and aged from 16-19 receive up to £60 a fortnight for day-to-day costs like travel, transport and books. It is paid directly to young people from households with an income of £33,950 or less who stay on in education.
More than 60 per cent of students receiving the payments said they would have remained in education even without the incentive, departmental research said.
The minister told the Assembly the Executive had agreed a scheme which more effectively supported families most in need.
It has determined that the £10 and £20 bands should be withdrawn and replaced with a single band of £30 a week payable to children from households with an income of £20,500 or less with one dependent child or £22,500 or less where there are two or more children. Around 25,000 students will be eligible for the £30 rate next year, according to the Department for Employment and Learning’s consultation.
The Executive said that bonuses should be retained in the scheme to help tackle social disadvantage and close the gap in educational achievement and participation rates. Those will be worth £200 a year, reduced from £300.
Mr Farry said: “No bonuses are payable in similar schemes in Great Britain, so once again the Executive has developed a solution to address the differing needs of the population here, compared to elsewhere.
“The new scheme, excluding bonus payments, will produce savings sufficient to meet the target set by the Executive. The bonus payments themselves are largely being met by a transfer of resources from the Department of Education, with a smaller contribution from my own Department.”
National Union of Students-Union of Students in Ireland president, Adrianne Peltz, said she is pleased the Government has adopted key aspects of the student movement’s proposals in the changes they have made to the allowance.
She said: “This announcement means EMA is safe and will still deliver a very strong level of support for students in most need of assistance. We are particularly pleased that bonuses, which could potentially have been scrapped altogether, have been retained.
“The new system will help better target people in most need through ensuring households with more than one dependent child will now be taken into account, where they previously were not.”