The Stage

Blogs

Education and Training

Is it time to lift funding eligibility restrictions?

Why are funding organisations — student loans, DaDA and so on — so fixated on courses meeting a fifth birthday criterion before participating students qualify for financial support?

Yes, of course, we need safeguards and cannot go pouring what is effectively public money into the pockets of doubtful, fly-by-night exploitative, soi-disant training providers who don’t deliver the goods. But that does not, in my view, mean that only students in a handful (22 to be precise) of CDS schools and dance trainers accredited by CDET should get funding.

‘Accreditation’ is a very blunt instrument. I could take you to half a dozen impressive ‘unaccredited’ schools - usually dedicated to music theatre - which have started in the last couple of years or are launching this year. A school such as Music Theatre Academy, for example, is doing an outstanding job. I have seen its students in action several times. The standard is astonishing and 25% of its first intake is already signed up by agents four months before they graduate. Few accredited schools can match that. Yet MTA’s students get almost nothing in funding support because the college falls short of the five-year rule.

Why cannot each school be independently assessed for funding eligibility by people who really understand the requirements of training which is fit for purpose? The number of years the course has been running, or whether it ‘belongs’ to a CDS school, should have nothing to do with it.

As it is, the only hope for schools such as MTA is private sponsorship, altruism or scholarships provided by the schools themselves. Some - Herbert Justice Academy, whose full-time vocational course starts in September, for example - have the resources to help students in this way. Most do not.

Enter the new 2011 arrangement for the BBC Performing Arts Fund which has helped over 160 students with grants totalling more than £630,000 since the fund’s inception in 2003.

This year grants will — DaDA style — be made to colleges teaching music theatre, rather than to individual students. The average grant is expected to be £5,000 and around 25 colleges should get one.

But buried in the small print is this statement: “Courses must have run for five complete years to be eligible.”

There’s the rub. That same unfairness is built in and students who opt for a new course or college are penalised.

If you take this situation to its logical extreme, you could argue (I wouldn’t of course, but one could) that performing arts students simply aren’t worth funding at all. Most graduates will never earn the £21,000 a year which will be the starting point for student loan repayment from 2016. The threshold is £15,000 until then. So, from the taxpayers’ point of view, and no doubt the Daily Mail’s, these students are bad news.

Or another, more subversive, way of looking at it is to rejoice in the fact that most performing arts students, in effect, will get free training from 2012 when tuition fees rise and new arrangements come into force - but only if they play the system and train with the mainstream providers running established (for at least five years), accredited courses.

Either way, it makes no sense at all to lump performing arts students in with, say, undergraduate historians and economists in universities. Very specific, practical vocational training is a completely different animal from an academic, information-based course of study.

And, worst of all, students who choose to train in any other way, or anywhere apart from with a small number of providers, are on their own. It is almost as if funded training were run as a cartel — illegal in other industries. How can it possibly be fair?

Funding is in a mess and needs sorting out as a matter of urgency - but preferably not by a group of civil servants who’ve never been to the theatre or watched students in training.

2 Comments

Many thanks to Susan Elkin for highlighting the difficulties my students are facing at The MTA on raising funds to train with us. I understand that the 5 year rule allows adjudicating panels to be able to track the fortunes of graduates once they have left their chosen courses - but I would also implore them to actually visit some of the new courses and see what our training entails - and judge us on that. Surely if the training is robust the results will follow in time? Whilst in training we have already had students appearing in West End concerts which in itself should speak volumes about the standard of the training they are receiving? I'm confident that other 'new' colleges could also make similar claims to validate their courses. Meanwhile if you're reading this and are in a position to help (and contribute to our Hardship Fund) full details are on our website!

I want to respond to Susan’s blog and I hope my comments will provide debate as in some respects I agree, some I question and others I couldn't possibly agree with so here goes…..

Yes there are some excellent non-accredited schools doing an excellent job but without some kind of check, such as the five year rule, funding would become impossible due the demands from new schools. Not that it isn't impossible now, never knowing from one year to the next whether there will be any and if so how much.

I have to dispute the term 'handful'. There are 22 schools in the CDS and 18 in CDET. I'm not sure that 40 institutions in a country of modest size such as ours can be considered a handful. The hard truth is that this business does not provide employment for the performers we train but demands a wide selection to choose from. I don't believe we can make a case for many more training schools producing professional standard performers.

I also disagree that having access to the brave new world of student funding is a bad thing. Since the demise of discretionary awards, schools have existed year by year and any scheme which offers some long term security would, I would expect, be welcome by the schools. How many businesses in the 'real' world can exist without medium to long term planning?

This isn't a cartel and any new organisation, provided it can meet the stringent criteria, can apply for membership, funding etc. and will then be subject to the rigours of inspection or accreditation by OFSTED/QAA/NCDT/CDET/CDS/TRINTY/Validating Institution etc. etc. none of which a new school starting up under private funding will have to meet.

That level of quality assurance exists for one sole purpose: the protection of the students. A new, small, private school will not have to meet those demands in the first instance so some kind of test is essential and employability after graduation is one of the best; a great class doesn't guarantee a job.

I do agree that funding is in a mess. It always has been. Politicians and civil servants do not see that we support a billion pound tourist and leisure sector. Neither do they see that this intense, professional, self-disciplined training produces graduates capable of working in a multitude of sectors, not just as performers. How quickly they line up for a photo opportunity with the latest hot actor, how quickly they vanish when a cheque is required to train the next one.

ALRA (The Academy of Live & Recorded Arts) will continue to help new schools by offering outreach, workshops and other collaborations. I would also support any application from a new school for CDS membership providing it can prove quality in delivery, care for the student and results in employment.

That’s what we are here for. Certainly not profit, definitely not glory. Just to train actors to be ready to work.

Adrian Hall
Co-Director
ALRA

Content is copyright © 2012 The Stage Media Company Limited unless otherwise stated.

All RSS feeds are published for personal, non-commercial use. (What’s RSS?)