Mike Russell letter: 'Don't force thousands out of education'

AN OPEN letter has been sent to education secretary Michael Russell pleading with him not to scrap payments for youngsters to stay on in education after the age of 16.

Dozens of college student leaders across Scotland signed the letter, which warns that thousands could drop out of education or slip into poverty.

The Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), which pays up to 30 a week, is up for review next month and could be scrapped in today's Budget. Student leaders described it as vital and said it should instead be increased.

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The letter, published in The Scotsman today, says: "Scrapping the allowance now could force thousands out of education with no real alternative and close the doors to thousands more."

• Open letter to Michael Russell in full

Lower payments of 10 and 20 per week, plus bonuses for attendance and performance have already been ditched.

Colleges across Scotland wrote to students earlier this year warning they could not guarantee payments beyond Christmas.

A survey by the National Union of Students Scotland showed that 59 per cent of recipients could not continue in education without the EMA. And 74 per cent of colleges said ending the scheme would cause "real problems" for colleges and students.

The UK government has already said it is scrapping the scheme in England.