My old college, Rose Bruford has announced its Tuition Fees for 2012. They will be charging the maximum 9,000 for degree courses. I cannot say I that I am really all that surprised, given how lowly Higher Education in the Arts seems to be valued by the current government. It is still a shame though.
I can understand the college’s reasons behind charging these fees – through a combination of the tough position that the cut in HE subsidy has placed on the finance department, and through a desire to not be seen as a ‘lesser institution’ by charging less than the competition (for context, Central School of Speech & Drama has also announced that it will be charging 9,000 a year). These circumstances may mean that this is the right decision for the College, but it is the wrong decision for students.
My fear is that the increase in fees will put off students. The refrain that is mentioned in reference to the Arts is that it in an industry you work in for the love, not for the money. This may be true, but finishing training in thousands of pounds of debt may deter talented prospective students from applying. I paid a maximum of 3,250 a year for my tuition at Rose Bruford, and recently received a letter from the Student Loans Company informing me that I currently owed them somewhere in the region of 26,000. I am starting a Masters in October that has tuition fees of 8,400 and for full time study I need to be able to pay around 25,000 over the year to cover living costs, rent, repayments, food, travel and other expenses. Assuming that there are some expenses I am accruing that will not be faced by undergraduate students, it is possible that a Stage Management graduate – like myself – who graduates in 2015 could be leaving College with a debt of 40,000 from the three years of training. When a Stage Manager can earn somewhere around 450 a week, it makes that debt, before interest and other expenses (like rent and food) seem quite intimidating. I do not want to see talented, driven individuals who could contribute to one of the most profitable and valuable industries in the UK, to be put off applying through fear of the debt that they will be placing themselves under. With cuts to Arts Council budgets and a government desire to support the Arts through philanthropy, the uncertainty faced by recent graduates makes spending 9,000 a year just on tuition seem an even more substantial risk.
College will still need to take in the same number of students in order to balance the budgets. With some students being prevented from looking for places because of their financial situation, will there be a need to accept less talented, skilled and inspired students so that the money keeps coming in? I hope that this does not happen, because not only will it reduce the quality of the graduates that College is training, but with several drama schools being in a similar situation, will there be a lower standard of graduates entering the industry.
If, and this is a very large if, this does come to pass then the ability of the industry to continue to produce quality product will come into question, and this would then have an effect on the contribution that the Arts can make to culture, and to the amount of income generated in the direction of the Treasury. I do not want to see a shrinking of the artistic spectrum caused by the reliance on philanthropy and having to justify to wealthy benefactors that a production is a good idea – and I think that this potential over-commercialisation of the industry could lead to less risk taking and less invention. I also do not want to see the range of product on offer to be limited through a lack of talent. This would not be too evident for the first few years, as the older generation will still be there, but if there is a reduction in the talent pool then in the long term the variety of output could also be reduced, as groups and individuals may not have the abilities needed to create a wider, more varied range of productions.
I hope that it does not come to this, and I do think that these are worst case scenarios, and I hope many of those applying for places in 2012 will be doing it out of love for what they do, and will take their places in spite of the financial burden that they will be placed under. If ability to afford the tuition becomes the defining factor in prospective students decisions, then I think there could be trouble.
I guess we will have to wait and see.