Monday, 13 December 2010


Yet another action against education cuts – that may not sound like news any more. But today's is specifically over the Education Maintenance Allowance, and I’m wondering how many people will find that a new term.

Now you, me and anybody with a functioning brain cell is against the ConDems tripling tuition fees to pay off their banker cronies. (Particularly when they’re cutting education budgets at the same time, effectively making students pay more for less.) But the total scrapping of the EMA has seen less press attention. It’s a classic example of the cultural bias of the media, populated as it is by middle class types fixated upon career paths.

Yet, from scanning banners on those same news clips and from other anecdotal evidence, the EMAs been at least as big a deal to the demonstrators. Many of the more regular schoolkids won’t have imagined ever going to Uni in the first place, but were reliant on the EMA as an alternative to flipping burgers. A paltry sum, tapered but maxed at £30 a week, it enabled kids from less privileged backgrounds to attend college or sixth form. Though barely enough to cover transport and subsistence expenses, it was still enough to make education an option.

Lecturer Sally Hunt has commented ”withdrawing the EMA will hit some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society.” Or, as one kid commented to the BBC, “we’re from the slums of London. Take away our EMA and what’s to stop us becoming drug dealers?” The facts back him up more firmly than any smooth-talking spin doctor. A recent NUS poll suggested that almost two thirds would have to quit college if the grant goes. Actually, make that when...

The frequently uttered ConDem claim that stoked-up tuition fees won’t discourage poor students, already absurd, is thereby made a total non-starter. If kids can’t afford to attend Further Education, how in the world will they ever get to Higher Education?

This grant is being abolished by a Cabinet of millionaires who would spend over £30 on lunch without thinking about it. Its negative effects aren’t some unfortunate side-effect of some “tough set of decisions” that had to be made, they’re the very point of the axeing. It’s a blatant act of class war against the poor, presided over by a Bullingdon toff who only wants to see oiks when they’re serving him his frappuccino. The subliminal narrative is that the working classes are only suited to servitude.

But the sheer size and scale of the protests, often self-organised by young people with no previous political experience, give us a different narrative. It’s no surprise to see them clamped and attacked by uniformed goons. It’s no surprise to see any act of resistance portrayed as mindless hooliganism. These actions aren’t just heartening to see. They embryonically suggest at a world beyond our lords and masters...

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