Drama school places ‘face 15% cut’ under government plans

Natalie Woolman

Drama school applicants will have to fight over fewer places if government plans to make universities compete for top students are pushed through, with the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama warning the number of performers it accepts could fall by 15%.

The conservatoire’s eight affiliate schools include RADA, LAMDA, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Central School of Ballet and Circus Space and it claims all would be destabilised by the plans.

In a bid to increase competition in the higher education sector, the government’s white paper plans to allow universities to compete for students that achieve AAB or above in their A level results, estimated to be around 65,000 in 2012/13.

However, to create this pool of AAB+ places, the government plans to cut the number of core places it funds at institutions across the board. This means drama schools, which accept students on the basis of an audition and not A level results, could lose out.

Its response to the government’s consultation on the white paper reads: “Because the conservatoire recruits on talent and potential rather than on formal qualifications, its AAB+ population will vary considerably year on year.”

Meanwhile, a second proposal to free up a further 20,000 places in 2012/13 for institutions that charge tuition fees of £7,500 or less and “combine good quality with value for money” could also adversely affect performing arts schools. The conservatoire says it must charge the top price £9,000 in tuition fees to maintain the quality of its courses.

As a result of this combination of policies, conservatoire schools could have 15% fewer places for UK and EU students. The response states: “On current estimates, the conservatoire might lose 71 student places as part of the AAB+ policy and a further 61 places to facilitate the core/margin model.

“With a target of 885 undergraduate student places, this amounts to 15% of the current UK and EU student body or the entire undergraduate population of one of our larger schools such as RADA.”

The conservatoire stresses this would be an unintentional consequence of the proposals, but states that the removal of places “would be a serious threat to the status and sustainability of conservatoire-level training in the UK.”

It asks that the government considers exempting performing arts institutions from the two reforms designed to stimulate competition, saying that the conservatoire is already competing internationally.

In the white paper, the government says HEFCE will provide “targeted funding to recognise the additional costs relating to widening participation and support for small and specialist institutions such as music and arts conservatoires.”

CDD welcomes this but its statement concludes that, unless the performing arts sector is removed from the competition framework in the plans, it would be “diminished in [its] ability both to meet the entry needs of the performing arts professions, to continue competing with the best in the world in the UK national interest, and to provide access to this training on the basis of talent alone.”

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