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Fees hike will result in training ‘rich, untalented’ drama students

Samuel West speaking at Theatre 2016. Photo: Alex Brenner

Theatre leaders have criticised a planned increase in drama school fees, with actor and campaigner Samuel West warning it will lead to “rich, talented students and rich, untalented students” being trained.

Four drama schools have confirmed they intend to raise their fees to the new government-approved amount of £9,250 [1]: Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Rose Bruford College, Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts and East 15 Acting School.

Four more schools contacted by The Stage – RADA, LAMDA, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and Royal Central School of Speech and Drama – did not rule out a fee increase.

West said the creative industries were already dominated by people from affluent backgrounds, and warned that potential students facing increased levels of debt would make the problem worse.

“Debt burdens are part of the decision to try to break into acting, and make it more risky for those who don’t have family or independent money behind them,” he told The Stage.

The actor, who chairs the National Campaign for the Arts, went on: “We’ve said it before, but these increases will make the exclusion of working-class voices worse.

“At the moment we teach rich, talented students and poor, talented students. If fees continue to increase, soon we’ll be teaching rich, talented students and rich, untalented students.”

Two of the schools increasing their fees, Rose Bruford and LIPA, had their government funding cut by a total of £1.5 million earlier this year [2], which West claimed was “bound to have had an impact”.

But he also highlighted that Guildhall, also raising its fees, received a £4 million boost from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

National Youth Theatre artistic director Paul Roseby said he “understood and sympathised” with the financial pressure on drama schools.

But he also joined West in calling for increased bursary support to ensure poorer students were able to attend drama school.

“To counterbalance the rise in fees there needs to be more bursary provision made available from any increased profit margins,” he said.

He also suggested a cross-party government audit on quality and opportunity within the drama training sector, and called on the Department for Education to create new initiatives to support the “most vulnerable” aspiring actors.

“If we are to believe that the era of austerity is over, then an immediate solution to funding must be offered up to prevent an increasing skills gap through a desperate lack of free opportunity,” Roseby said.

The rise in fees was also criticised by Equity, whose assistant general secretary Martin Brown claimed it could “only be bad news” for aspiring performers and creatives.

He said: “Equity has already raised concerns about the growing cost of auditions to get into training. This increase in tuition fees will add to the economic burden, and may continue to skew entry to the performing arts in favour of those with families who can support them financially.”

Plans for the maximum fee increase are still subject to parliamentary scrutiny, and will be debated in the autumn.

Drama schools that want to charge the £9,250 fees require approval from the Office for Fair Access and a good rating by the Teaching Excellence Framework.