The effectiveness of the discretionary financial award, the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), in a tertiary college in the South West of England
The Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) is a discretionary financial award being developed to support young people from low-income households who undertake full-time courses in further education (FE). South West College* is part of the national pilot scheme for this award initiated by the government in September 1999, which currently involves 56 Local Education Authorities. The aim of this research was to examine the effect of the EMA on participation. retention and achievement in full-time further education courses for young people from low-income households in South West College; and to identify the extent to which a financial incentive can improve post-16 recruitment, retention and results on advanced level (academic and vocational) courses. Theme generating student and staff perceptions were sought on the impact of the EMA. College data were analysed to allow for a comparison of an EMA and non-EMA cohort and any tentative identification of the extent to which remuneration had affected student participation, retention and achievement. Findings suggest that for full-time advanced level students from low-income backgrounds enrolling on a course in 1999, the EMA may have had a positive effect on retention, but that participation and achievement appeared unaffected in South West College. The findings differs from the national evaluation results that identify increased levels of both participation and retention, but have yet to comment on achievement. Student and staff perceptions of the EMA were that it is a good idea in further education and that it should help students in paying for additional and indirect educational expenses. The EMA appears to support widening participation and success in further education; however critical evaluation suggests that cultural factors, as well as financial or structural factors, may impact on students' decisions to participate, stay on and achieve at advanced level. The EMA may not generate a more highly skilled workforce to support economic growth (DfES 2002a). *The name of the case study college has been changed to protect its identity in accordance with ethical considerations.