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Drama ponders higher rewards

Should the nation's leading drama schools retain their FE status? The higher education sector might seem enticing, with extra funding and student loans, but some schools are reluctant to sacrifice their independence.

A consortium of schools offering a joint drama degree is just one idea currently being discussed by England's six independent drama schools. RADA, Webber Douglas, LAMDA, the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts, Arts Educational and the Oxford School of Drama are also looking at block or individual affiliations with universities. Some schools are thinking of linking up with music or art colleges.

There is also an awareness that close links with universities might damage the schools' ability to provide vocational training, and standardisation of courses is a concern.

Students at the six schools have to rely on the Government's Dance Drama Awards Scheme for scholarships. Before its introduction, only those from wealthy families and state-funded foreign students could afford the training.

Actors such as Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench were used to receiving dozens of letters from students pleading for help and many talented youngsters had to give up their places.

The recently released Marchant Report, commissioned by the National Council for Drama Training to report on thefirst year of awards scheme, makes the point that it does address chronic under-funding, but there is simply not sufficient cash to help all students. It calls for all the independent drama schools to be part of HE and for students on courses accredited by the drama training council to be eligible for loans.

Peter Cheeseman, council chairman, said: "A consortium of schools needs to be worked out properly. I would prefer individual solutions. The awards scheme is a terrific step forward and we want to make it work."

Raphael Jago, principal at Webber Douglas, wants to see how the second year of awards goes. He sees advantages in staying under the FE umbrella. He believes that poorer students would be better off and he wants the drama colleges to have some say in the Government's National Diploma in Professional Acting.

"High selectivity is essential in drama training," Jago said. "The Government wants open access to the new qualification, but if that happens the very ethos of each individual school will fade away. We need to be in a strong negotiating position."

No firm decisions have been taken as yet. The schools may well seek individual solutions to secure their futures, but when the nature and quality of drama training is being discussed they will want to speak with one voice.

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