College booming despite grant axe

A TOWN college has reported record numbers of students this year – despite the scrapping of the Education Maintenence Allowance (EMA) being blamed for half of England’s colleges seeing their student numbers drop.

A survey released this week reported how 49 per cent of further education colleges have fewer students than last year with financial pressures such as the loss of EMA being named as a reason.

Despite the national drop, Rick Wells, principal at Hartlepool Sixth Form College, in the town’s Blakelock Road, said their recruitment is up.

He thinks it is difficult to say at the minute whether the nationwide decrease is directly due to the axing of EMA, but says he “knows for a fact” that some students are now struggling financially to pay for basic college requirements.

Mr Wells told the Mail: “I think it’s very difficult for colleges to say in the short term whether the cut is because of EMA.

“This is partly because we only had six students who were due to start this year and didn’t and they all cited transport as the reason why.

“All of the evidence is circumstancial, no college could have hard, objective evidence to show that EMA is the direct cause for the drop.”

The principal says there are a number of other factors which could be to blame for the drop, one of which is the increasing number of school’s getting academy status.

He added: “As far as we are concerned the only way for us to tell if EMA is directly to blame is if students leave while they are on the programme.”

However Mr Wells admitted that the scrapping of the grant has made life difficult for students and colleges.

He said: “Despite the fact it hasn’t stopped them coming to college, I know for a fact that some students are struggling to fund basic items.

“It is making life difficult for students, and for the college.”