Drama schools fend off ‘rich only’ charge

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Principals from London’s leading drama schools, including RADA’s Edward Kemp, have defended themselves from claims that only “rich kids” can afford to train at their organisations.

This follows remarks made by actor Clare Higgins, reported in The Stage, who said there is a “dearth of training for people who don’t have independent wealth or rich parents”.

She cited LAMDA, where she trained, and RADA as schools at risk of being filled with wealthy students in the near future because of the lack of financial  support on offer to them, and revealed  she is setting up a free drama training  for people from low income families.

However, in contrast to Higgins’ comments, Kemp told The Stage that people from a “low income background” have grants and scholarships “more readily available” to them than students from families with a higher income.

The government currently offers  maintenance grants to help students with living costs, available to students whose household income is £42,600 or less.

Kemp said: “I would say it’s the children of parents who earn £44,000 – that sort of amount – who are in trouble, as there is a cut-off [for support] at £43,000. Each year the cut-off is reduced. If the combined parental income of a student is £45,000 – which if you live in London and have a couple of kids does not begin to go very far – then you have a problem.”

He added: “Working-class kids, to an extent, are looked after by the state. It’s when you shift beyond those bounds that, in a sense, there’s nothing.”

Kemp said a “substantial chunk" of money secured through the standard £9,000 annual fee per student RADA charges for its BA (hons) in acting has been used for “improving access” at the school. He added that during the tenure of RADA’s current registrar, no acting student had been “turned away because they couldn’t afford to come here”.

“We say, apply, and if we offer you a place, then it becomes our problem as well as yours,” he said. According to RADA, 40% of its student base comes from low income families, while 55% of students  on its BA (hons) in acting and foundation degree in technical theatre and stage management receive bursary support.

However, Kemp expressed concern that postgraduates do not have enough financial support to enable them to  pursue drama training.

He said there is “zero provision” for postgraduate training, and added: “My concern is for the brilliant actor  who has come from a working-class  background, who has a degree and then wants to train as an actor – then there  is a serious problem.”

Meanwhile, LAMDA principal Joanna Read welcomed Higgins’ comments, but highlighted how LAMDA’s scholarships and bursaries programmes raise up  to £250,000 annually for students who “might otherwise be unable to pursue vocational training”.

“We are committed to ensuring that students for our full-time acting, stage management and technical courses are recruited on talent alone. I would encourage more actors and industry professionals to lend their voices to the call for wider access to the arts. I also ask them not to forget the work that drama schools like LAMDA are doing to support this aim and ensure the industry remains robust,” she said.

Responding to Higgins’ comments, Ian Kellgren, chief executive of Drama UK, which champions drama training, warned that a fear of getting into debt can put people off applying to drama school.

He said that although there are student loans and Dance and Drama Awards, which give free scholarships to people on low incomes, “loans can be a disincentive”.

Kellgren said the call “should not be  for a new school for the ‘posh-less’, but  for equality of opportunity in the years before drama school training”, warning that fee-paying secondary schools have the facilities and time to encourage  students to explore acting.

“Drama mustn’t be a Cinderella  subject,” Kellgren added.


  1. The postgrad argument I don’t think applies – everyone gets funding for the first degree. If I did drama school then wanted to do postgrad in history, it would cost loads, same vice-versa!

  2. As a current student at RADA I think the original article is ridiculous. The price of RADA, like all universities is the same and you get the same financial help from student finance as you would at kings, UCL or any London university. RADA in fact, I don’t know about any others, offer extra support to students who need it from the outset, many of my classmates recieving financial help even on top of the student loan directly from RADA. I for one have had enough of this ‘pricing out of university rubbish’. Those who are best off going to uni are actually those with the lowest household incomes as they are given burseries and grants from both local authorities and the government. And if I were to be doing any other degree, it’d cost me the same. Univeristy costs nothing up front the first time you go. So lets stop this stupidity.

  3. Well for YEARS drama courses have cost £9,000 a year, I don’t know why the cost is so high as the teachers aren’t usually well paid usually being out of work performers.
    The honest truth is that repayment doesn’t have to be be made until the students earns £21,000 a year – unlikely for at least 90% of them.
    Far too many courses; 150 in the old CDoS organisation which I think merged
    with the NCDET to become Drama UK.
    Prospective students dont do research and
    find which courses actually give them a chance to show their final productions in
    front of Casting directors and good agents. Sadly a high percentage will never ever get one paid job.

  4. Its all very well to look at what these schools are doing to help a select few underprivaleged actors to fund their places at these schools, but the real problem lies far before securing a place. Funding auditions costs a small fortune, when you account for the disgusting audition fee which is averaged at forty pounds per audition, and then accounting for travel costs to london (which multiply heavily due to recalls). The process itself turns the poorer students away even before they have a chance of showing themselves. I auditioned for 6 schools this year and spent close to £1000 pounds in travel and audition fees. The audition process is pathetic considering forty years ago auditions were totally free and places were funded through grants.

  5. I would have to disagree with this article to an extent because it is difficult enough to get into drama school but a great way to help your self is to do an 1 year foundation degree but they have to be completely privately funded and their aren’t even any bursaries or scholarships on offer so if your someone like me who comes from an working class background then it will be even harder to get into to drama school.

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