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Stage stars' campaign for grants pays off

The Government is poised to bring in a new deal for more than 3,000 dance, drama and stage management students who have been at the mercy of the discretionary award system.

But there may be a price for the private arts colleges who would benefit most, as they are likely to be subject to the same rigorous inspection regime as public-sector education.

Independent schools and colleges who train students for the acting and dance professions have been lobbying for years to gain funding parity with universities and music conservatoires as grants have rapidly declined.

Until recently local education authorities awarded discretionary, not mandatory grants, to talented dancers and actors. The system has increasingly become a lottery for students as budget cuts forced councils to reduce or abolish awards. Getting a place in say, the Laban Dance Centre, or the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, depended on geography as much as talent and ability to pay.

The proportion of local authorities which paid full fees dropped by 41 per cent since 1990, prompting an outcry from top actors and dancers who petitioned Downing Street in April 1996.

In response the Tories introduced an interim funding scheme administered by the Arts Council which used Pounds 15 million from the National Lottery to help students. But councils had to contribute at least Pounds 1,250 to trigger funding and many declined to do so.

Pauline Tambling, director of education and training at the Arts Council of England, said she was confident of achieving some form of parity. Ideally, the schools and colleges would like full fees paid by the Government with the Pounds 1,000 means-tested parental contribution that universities receive.

It costs around Pounds 8,000 a year for three years to train an actor or a dancer compared to the subsidised fee of approximately Pounds 3,300 for a musician at a conservatoire like Trinity College of Music where students get mandatory grants.

The new system is expected put the accreditation of courses,- carried out by the Council for Dance Education and Training and the Conference of Drama Schools - under similar quality controls as the public sector.

Veronica Lewis, director of the London Contemporary Dance School, said she didn't feel apprehensive about this as long as the quality assurance measures were appropriate for dancers and actors.

Anna Leatherdale, lead officer for the CDET, said the council hoped for a level of funding that would cover the real cost of training. "Otherwise, no matter how many new theatres are built with lottery funds, there'll be no people to fill them."

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