Students at a Scottish ballet school fear they will be unable to complete their training, after a government funding blunder led to a £40,000 shortfall in their expected tuition fee loans.
Parents and the principal of the affected school, Ballet West Scotland in Argyll and Bute, have criticised the Scottish government for “discriminating against young Scottish people”, who are not entitled to the same tuition fee loans as students at the same school from England and Wales.
Five students taking the BA (hons) Ballet degree were told last year that their tuition-fee allowance would be increased from a £1,205 non-repayable grant to a £9,250 loan, as the Ballet West course had become a franchise of Bath Spa University, having formerly been accredited by the Open University.
However, just before Christmas last year, the students received a letter from funding body the Student Awards Agency for Scotland telling them that the funding decision had been reversed, and that they would only be entitled to the original £1,205 grant.
The course fees for the year are £9,250, with students left needing to find an additional £8,045 to cover their fees.
Myette Whalley, whose daughter Errin is one of the students affected, branded it a “disastrous mistake” that has left the students in an “incredibly difficult financial situation”.
She said: “This was a real shock and a complete mess on the behalf of SAAS, as four other students are also in the same position.
“Errin feels annoyed, angry, frustrated, stressed and very let down, and this is now having a profound affect on her mental health as her future training is uncertain.
“It is ridiculous that they have suddenly shoved Ballet West’s Scottish students into this horrible situation without warning.”
Whalley added: “Errin has raised £1,555 through a crowdfunding campaign, and she has had a donation of £500 from the Zich Trust, but this is nowhere near enough, and Bath Spa University wants its money.
“We have appealed though the correct channels but to no avail.”
Another student affected by the mistake is Hazel Sloey, who said she felt “physically sick” when she realised she would not be receiving the £9,000 loan.
She said: “I started my third year filled with excitement and no longer feeling I was causing my parents such great financial strain.
“Then, just a few days before Christmas, I was informed that there was an update to my application. I felt physically sick when I opened a new awards letter on my SAAS account to see that my funding had been taken from me.”
Student Chloe Clark has also been affected by the error, telling The Stage: “Dance can be an expensive field to get yourself into anyway.
“This being my graduate year, the cost of audition materials, accommodation and travel to and from auditions will definitely rack up. If I’d received the same funding my classmates from England and Wales have, it would have been a huge help for me and my parents as I try to kickstart my career.”
Principal and founder of Ballet West Scotland Gillian Barton described it as “unfortunate” that a Scottish government policy meant Scottish students were unable to take out student loans as Bath Spa University students simply because the course was delivered in Scotland.
“This policy needs to be changed as it is discriminating against young Scottish people wanting to study at an internationally renowned ballet school in Scotland,” she said.
Barton added: “Students in the UK and Europe have no issues accessing student loans for the BA (hons) Ballet delivered at Ballet West in Scotland and we would like to see a change in the Scottish government policy that prohibits Scottish students from receiving the same funding as students from the rest of the UK and Europe.”
SAAS said that up until the 2018/19 academic year, the Ballet West degree course was validated by the Open University. However, it then entered into a franchise agreement with Bath Spa University that led to the funding agreement being re-evaluated.
A spokeswoman for the funding body said: “At the start of the 2019/2020 academic session an issue emerged with the way the BA Ballet course was set up on our course management system.
“This led to a small group of students receiving inaccurate tuition-fee award notices from SAAS. This was rectified, and amended award notices were issued advising students they would continue to be eligible for the same funding support package they were entitled to prior to the franchise agreement – tuition fee support of £1,205.”
The spokeswoman added: “Unlike publicly funded universities and colleges, private providers of higher education are responsible for setting their own tuition-fee rates.
“Eligible students studying a course wholly delivered in Scotland by a private provider can apply for £1,205 each year from SAAS to help towards the cost of their tuition fees.”