Exclusive: Tuition fee hike triggers slump in drama school applicants

Natalie Woolman
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Applications to drama courses for the coming academic year have fallen by as much as 14% following the tuition fee hike, The Stage can reveal.

UCAS figures show that applications for drama degrees are down by 14.2% compared with this point last year. Interest in vocational courses has also dropped, with an 8% fall in applications to the Central School of Speech and Drama for its BA (hons) acting course as of this year’s January UCAS deadline and an average 10% decrease in applications to the undergraduate courses provided by the Conservatoire of Dance and Drama’s schools. RADA, LAMDA and Bristol Old Vic Theatre School are affiliate members of the conservatoire.

However, as students entering higher education in the 2011/12 academic year were the final cohort to escape the £9,000 annual tuition fees, the figures for last year are thought to be slightly inflated – with some students attempting to enter higher education before the rise kicked in. Nevertheless, the conservatoire said this year’s figures represented a 6% drop compared with applications for 2010/11.

The joint principals of the conservatoire, Veronica Lewis and Edward Kemp, said they were concerned about how the fee rise would affect intake.

Lewis said: “It’s a little early to know the impact of the funding changes on our actual student body, but we are concerned that the new fees may deter students from a wide range of backgrounds.

“The conservatoire was set up to make professional training available to talented students irrespective of personal circumstances, so this is something we will monitor closely, now and when the new students arrive in September. We are offering financial support with discounts up to £4,000 for those starting this year.”

Central said the drop in applications to its three-year BA (hons) acting course had been expected as a result of the tuition fee increase, but emphasised the course was still fiercely competitive, with 103 applications from UK students for every place.

Despite the drop in applications through UCAS, the number of people auditioning at Central has increased this year. Although CSSD invites all applicants to audition, not everyone attends but this year has seen an 11% increase in prospective students attending auditions.

Dom Tulett, head of admissions and student recruitment at Central, said: “We have seen a much higher proportion of our applicants seeing their applications through to audition stage than we have in the past. I believe this is in part due to increased fees causing applicants to invest more thought into their choices before they submit their application – we most likely have fewer applicants with a ‘passing interest’ nowadays – and the increased scholarship and bursary provision available at the school.”

The application processes have not all concluded yet, although the initial deadlines have passed. As such, it is not yet clear whether the demographic make-up of those studying for drama degrees will change.

Ian Kellgren, chief executive of the newly formed body Drama UK, which aims to champion training at all levels, said: “It is not surprising if applications are down given the anxiety generated by the increase in student fees and the economic downturn. But the performing arts industry is a massive contributor to the economy and needs a skilled workforce. Drama UK looks to underline the anticipated skills shortage in technical areas and to support all talented potential performers from any background.”

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The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, London. Photo: Noel Foster