The lessons from the fight for EMA

by Samir Hinks, FE College student at Bury College & EAN Steering committee

The fires inParliament Squareand Millbank may have burnt out long ago but the effects of the student protests are still having far reaching effects. In local council elections the betrayal by the Liberal Democrats has seen their vote plummet, and despite all pretences the strains within the coalition government are clearer than ever. Meanwhile in the streets the word is resistance, with trade union leaders praising the student movement in front of the half a million strong TUC demonstration in March. However in many campuses up and down the country the mood has been subdued as university after university announce that they will be charging the maximum fee level and the material gains of the movement appear limited.

Nevertheless there have been concessions and most tellingly they have come in FE colleges over the issue of EMA. Perhaps the most striking images from the student protests were the thousands of school and FE students who walked out of their schools and colleges, battling both management and the police to bring the issue of EMA to the fore. We may not have brought down the government but the ConDem’s had to back down and agree to continue paying EMA for the rest of the academic year and furthermore all AS students on the full £30 a week have been promised a payment of £20 a week for their second year. This represents a significant result for FE students who were looking at having all EMA cut before the end of this year.

However this is only a partial victory. EMA will be taken away from next year for any student not currently receiving the full £30 a month, a travesty when you consider that “public transport” costs are increasing by over 100%. Also the suggestions being put forward as to how the replacement Bursary Fund should be divided between colleges severely limits the opportunities for students to receive financial support. The current suggestion is that the funds are divided using current data for the number of students eligible for EMA, this encourages colleges to create quotas for the number of deprived students they admit – for fear that unsupported students may drop out of college. The frontiers for a two tiered education are being re-made. The Tories don’t only want to draw the dividing line between rich and poor at universities, but at our colleges.

Nevertheless the lessons that we can draw from the partial victory in FE is that the fight for education is won or lost in the streets. On the 9th December the government majority was cut by three quarters as MPs shook in fear as the streets of the capital were firmly in the hands of the students. It was this direct action, spurred forward by the militancy at the heart of the fight for EMA which saw the government take a step back. The students took a lead in the winter, and now it is our lecturers who are leading the fightback with UCU having already carried out a national strike and the 30th June set to see nearly one million out on strike again. It is now our turn as students to take a lead once more in the fight for education. If the militancy of the student revolt could be combined with the power of the unions we can turn a partial victory into a rout of the ConDem government. Looking to the 30th and the Autumn term we need to remember the lessons of the poll tax, CPE and Arab revolutions. We need to remember the lessons of our own struggle and that our power didn’t lie in backroom deals or candlelit vigils, but in the streets. And most of importantly of all; we need to remember that the fight for EMA, against fees and for our education, is far from over.

About educationactivistnetwork
The education activist network provides national coordination for trade unionists, academics, university workers and student campaigners fighting to defend jobs and education in the UK.

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