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East 15 heads diversity league table of top drama schools

East 15 students Hsin-Huei Hung, Kanyaluk Vera Hirunvanichakorn, Carl Bentley and David Lamar Johnson in performance. Photo: Andrew H Williams East 15 students Hsin-Huei Hung, Kanyaluk Vera Hirunvanichakorn, Carl Bentley and David Lamar Johnson in performance. Photo: Andrew H Williams
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• On average, 17% of students at UK drama schools are BAME
• East 15 leads schools with a third of students from BAME backgrounds
• Only 7% of students at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama are BAME

East 15 Acting School leads the UK’s drama schools when it comes to ethnic diversity, according to new research from The Stage.

A survey of the UK’s top drama schools reveals that more than a third of students – 131 out of 390 – at East 15 are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

At the other end of the scale, only 20 out of 297 – just under 7% – of students on drama courses at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama declared themselves as BAME, with 44 not disclosing their ethnicity.

From the 12 schools that supplied data, an average of 17% of students came from BAME backgrounds.

The research was carried out by The Stage after a group of drama school students set up a campaign called The Diversity School Initiative to ‘name and shame’ schools that are not doing enough to increase diversity.

The results were in line with the general population: as of December 2016, 17% of the UK population aged between 16 and 24 came from an ethnic minority background, according to the Office for National Statistics’ Annual Population Survey.

East 15’s deputy director Michael Fry told The Stage that its numbers do not reflect a deliberate policy, but that “if the audition panel is split between two applicants, we might decide to favour a black or Asian student, as the profession does still need a more diverse range of casting, and we are finding that our BAME students do especially well at the moment”.

However, this is not the case at other schools. The Academy of Live and Recorded Arts insists on an audition process “that is as free from bias as possible”.

The school’s principal Adrian Hall said: “The audition panels do not discuss or have any say in final decisions. These are made on the basis of score alone, which can’t have been unduly weighted by any single person.”

He added: “I’m sure some schools feel the temptation to positively discriminate to ensure BAME figures look good, but that risks compromising the quality of entrants.

“Our way is to work with colleges and schools in geographical areas that traditionally have not had a drama school entry history among their students. The bigger the number of BAME students applying, the greater the numbers that will be on the courses without compromising quality. Obviously this is a long game, there are no quick fixes that last.”

Similarly, RADA’s artistic director Edward Kemp stressed the school’s focus on talent alone.

He said: “The feedback we regularly get is that our students and graduates are not in favour of introducing quotas: they want to be judged first and foremost on talent. We also know there is work still to be done on a number of fronts.”

A spokeswoman for Guildhall School of Music and Drama explained that part of the problem for schools attempting to broaden their intake of students is at the application stage. “The biggest challenge is encouraging applications from BAME people in the first instance. BAME people are under-represented and the challenge is to increase the diversity of the application pool.”

Several schools noted the high cost of tuition fees as a barrier to potential applicants. Fry explained that BAME applicants to East 15 have decreased over the past three years, which the school attributes to the 2012 increase in tuition fees to a maximum of £9,000 per year.

He said: “The fact that applicants can get full loans that don’t need to be paid back until an actor earns over £21,000 a year doesn’t seem to have permeated to the BAME communities as trenchantly as some others.”

The Stage’s research included data supplied from 12 schools. Birmingham School of Acting, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Drama Centre London, Guildford School of Acting, Manchester School of Theatre and Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts were also approached but were unable to supply data before The Stage went to press.

Schools were asked to provide the total number of students on drama courses in 2016/17, and the number of those students from BAME backgrounds.

Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama 7%
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland 11%
Rose Bruford College 11% (2015/16 figures)
Drama Studio London 12%
Academy of Live and Recorded Arts 15%
Royal Central School of Speech and Drama 15% (2014/15 figures)
Oxford School of Drama 18%
Guildhall School of Music and Drama 19%
Arts Ed School of Acting 23%
RADA 17% (data supplied after print publication)
East 15 Acting School 34%

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