Norfolk students hit hard by spending cuts

A 'perfect storm' of transport and higher education cuts could threaten specialist rural colleges and have a 'dramatic impact' on participation among Norfolk's teenagers, a principal will today tell a powerful committee of MPs.

The region's agricultural industry could also be hit hard, with cash-strapped young people unable to afford to access the courses that lead to the specialist qualifications it is crying out for.

The dire warning will be made to the education select committee in London by David Lawrence, principal of Easton College, near Norwich.

Mr Lawrence, who has been called to give evidence to a far-reaching inquiry into 16-19 participation into education and training, will cite a host of factors that are contributing to the looming crisis, including:

? The government scrapping the education maintenance allowance (EMA), which provided up to �30 per week to low-income teenagers to help them stay in education beyond 16

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? Reduced funding for rural bus services, which many young people in isolated areas rely on to get to college

? Reduced Norfolk County Council subsidies for transport to college

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? 'Significant' cuts in government funding to colleges, including of up to 25pc for adult learners

? A feared reduction in or scrapping of residential bursaries, which help many hard-up young people to live in at colleges like Easton and study specialist courses.

Mr Lawrence said Easton College, a specialist land-based and sport institution that takes students from all over the region, was among the places that were particularly vulnerable to the changes.

And he said he feared that rural public transport cuts, alongside the other factors, could force many young people to study at their nearest college, rather than choose the best course for them.

He said: 'This will create a further perverse impact in terms of subjects like agriculture where there are substantial skills shortages but for many reason, predominantly financial, there are limited locations for study, particularly at level three and beyond.'

He said: 'The impact on the geographically dispersed rural areas of a lack of funding support for rural transport generally and home to college transport specifically, coupled with the low average wage economies operating in some of these areas and high fuel costs in more remote rural areas have the potential to create a dramatic impact on participation.

'Learners from more remote rural areas will have less choice and in some cases this will lead to an increase in the number of young people not in education, employment or training.'

He said many learners relied on the now doomed EMAs to fund their travel costs, while the residential bursaries were 'critical in areas with dispersed populations'.

Mr Lawrence said any failure to continue to fund the bursaries would have a 'very severe' impact on learners, subjects and specialist colleges.

He said the government should make funding for home-to-college post-16 transport 'mandatory' up to age 18 and then 'fund it appropriately'.

Norfolk County Council has long provided discretionary subsidies for student college transport, with this year's young people paying half of the near �800 cost.

Funding problems prompted a proposal to axe the subsidy from September 2012, but the council is currently in talks with colleges and bus companies to come up with a compromise deal that will cost the students more than at present but still be significantly subsidised.

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