This week, tens of thousands of students will take to the streets of London in opposition to the Tory-led government's attacks on education. This will be the first national demonstration organised by NUS since the enormous 50,000 strong protest two years ago and it is long over due. Since 2010 the government's war on students has intensified. We are facing soaring tuition fees, a lifetime of debt, bleak job prospects and declining living standards - so there is plenty for us to be protesting about.
Ahead of the demonstration, a new campaign has been launched to bring back the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) that was scrapped nearly two years ago in one of the first waves of spending cuts. This was done in spite of Michael Gove, now-Education Secretary famously saying in early 2010 before the general election: "Ed Balls keeps saying that we are committed to scrapping the EMA. I have never said this. We won't."
The EMA was a grant of up to £30 a week that allowed students from low-income families the chance to access further education - young people like myself. I along with over 500,000 other received EMA and the impact on my family was immense.
As I was finishing secondary school, I remember numerous discussions in my home about how we would be able to fund going to college and being a full-time student. It was thought that if the family all pitched in, we could cover the £4 a day bus fares, cost of college trips, lunch and books. Luckily, we found out that we qualified for the EMA scheme, signed up immediately, and received the first £30 that September. My family lived from week to week, and that £30 was totally significant and at times helped pay electric, gas and for other essentials.
That is why for so many, Wednesday's demonstration on Parliament is an opportunity to raise our voices and jointly call for the re-instatement of EMA - precisely because of the tangible impact that it had on people's lives. Two years ago we campaigned against the first wave of Tory attacks on education that have now become sustained through plans for privatisation, further cuts and increased student debt. Much of the campaigning and the surrounding media at the time were focussed on the trebling of tuition fees from £3,000 to £9,000 - but the most powerful stories came from those who were at risk of losing their EMA and those who said they would not be able to make it to college if it was scrapped.
These stories came from a whole range of people but particularly were heard from Black students of African, Asian, Arab and Caribbean heritage. The statistics from 2008 showed that EMA was received by 88% of Bangladeshi students with the overwhelming 84% of them receiving the full grant of £30 a week. Around 65% of all African & Caribbean students received EMA too compared to 39% of their white student counterparts. These statistics highlight the significant impact that the loss of EMA had on Black communities - knowing this, the removal of EMA constituted a vicious attack on the hopes and dreams of young Black people.
Such hopes and dreams are now looking increasingly bleak as we see huge levels of youth unemployment and living standards in complete free-fall as inequality in society deepens. This is all accompanied by a government dedicated to twisted spending priorities, with commitments to spending money on continuing wars and renewing the Trident nuclear weapons system. Restoring EMA would cost a fraction of the £2 billion a year it costs to maintain Trident, with facts like that it is clear that we should be investing in and funding education, not war.
The student protest this Wednesday is likely to be loud, vibrant and clear on its message - we will resist all government attacks on our education and we will fight for a better future.
EMA supported me in being the first in my family to complete college and enrol at University. EMA helped over half a million achieve similarly and ultimately aim higher - that is why tens of thousands of students will be marching on Wednesday and why many will be united in calling for the government to Bring Back EMA.
Aaron Kiely is the NUS Black Students' Officer and co-founder of the Bring Back EMA Campaign. Visit http://www.bringbackema.org.uk/ for more information
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