Drama school heads have hit out at “ludicrous” government plans to scrap student maintenance grants, claiming they will prevent the poorest young people from becoming actors.
Principals of schools including LAMDA, Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts and Rose Bruford College have all come out against the plans, with suggestions they will “darken the future of the arts”.
The government has proposed that non-repayable grants for students from low-income households be scrapped from September, and replaced with loans to aid with living costs instead.
Branding the plans “a massive backward step”, LAMDA principal Joanna Read said she was “deeply disappointed and frustrated” by the “short-sighted” proposals.
She told The Stage: “It’s going to affect so many potential students from low-income backgrounds. They will think twice about whether they can train at a conservatoire like LAMDA – whether they can have the financial support to get them through three years of training.”
Like most drama schools, LAMDA organises a number of bursaries and scholarships to help students from all backgrounds apply to the school.
However, Read said: “It seems to me ludicrous that we’re doing that and the government is claiming it wants to broaden access into [drama] education, then they take away the maintenance grants.”
Calling on the government to “get their act together”, she said: “We want the students we train at LAMDA to reflect the industry and the world around them. We can’t do that by ourselves. This needs to be an area that the government gives the attention to.”
Students with household incomes of less than £25,000 are currently entitled to a £3,387 grant each year to cover living costs. Those from households with income up to £42,620 are entitled to some grant funding.
However, under the new proposals students would receive a maintenance loan of up to £8,200, which they would have to pay back at the same rate as other student loans.
Stephen Jameson – principal of Mountview – claimed the switch to loans would have a “serious effect” on arts training in the UK, and act as a “further barrier” to improving diversity in theatre.
“Students will now either be faced with even worse debt as they enter adulthood in a precarious marketplace, or they will not apply at all, creating a system that is anything but a level playing field,” Jameson said.
He added: “Strangling the financial oxygen needed by many of these students not only darkens the future of young training artists in this country, but also the future of the arts.”
Opposing the plans, Rose Bruford principal Michael Earley said the lack of support grants would “only contribute to the graduate debt that will spiral out of control”.
He asked: “How much, really, can we expect students and their families to bear in terms of covering rising fees? A drama student working to fulfil 30-plus contact hours of training a week cannot be expected to also hold down a part-time job to meet the costs of their day-to-day maintenance of food, rent and other necessary bills.”
RADA director Edward Kemp suggested drama schools would now face greater financial pressure to support poorer students.
He said: “Without means-tested maintenance grants, we have to do more and more to support lower-income stream students. We continue to do what we can to make the dramatic arts as accessible as they can, and should, be.”
In response, a spokesman for the department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: “Everyone with the potential to benefit from higher education should have the opportunity to do so, and our policy means that a lack of finance should not be a barrier to participation.”
He claimed the changes would increase the overall living-costs support provided to students, and said loans would not need to be paid back until students earn more than £21,000.