'Hit and miss' arts awards scrapped

4th December 1998 at 00:00
The Government is to replace controversial funding for young actors and dancers. Diane Spencer reports

THE unpopular discretionary award scheme for talented young actors and dancers has finally been axed by the Government - a move warmly welcomed by the arts' lobby.

Instead, ministers have launched a Pounds 17 million scheme to pay students' fees at vocational dance, drama and stage management courses at 29 independent colleges.

Higher education minister, Baroness Blackstone, said: "This will end the present hit and miss funding where financial support depends more on where a student lives than how talented they are.

"A third of local authorities give no awards at all. Many students who pass tough auditions find they do not have the funds to complete the course, " said the minister, launching the scheme at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London.

The new scheme will allow up to 820 students a year to train in institutions like the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, the Northern Ballet School, or the Birmingham School of Speech and Drama. The 29 institutions are either accredited by the Council for Dance Education and Training or the National Council for Drama Training.

The college and university funding councils will provide the institutions with allocations of places and funding annually.

Students will audition for places and will not be required to contribute more than Pounds 1,000 towards the costs of fees, compared with the current average of Pounds 2,500.

Those on higher education courses will be able to apply for means-tested support for fees and loans while students in further education can apply for support from a Pounds 1 million hardship fund.

Victoria Todd, director of the National Campaign for the Arts, who has fought a long battle against the discretionary grants, was "elated" by the news.

She hailed it as a "milestone in promoting talents and skills in the arts. No longer will talented students from economically deprived areas and ethnic minorities suffer disproportionately."

Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary, who was also at last week's launch, said the scheme would widen the pool of talent available to the creative industries.

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