Many have to work in restaurants, bars and even on obscene phone lines to pay their pounds 6,000-a-year fees, says a report published yesterday that reveals the difficulties drama and dance students have in securing state funding.
Principals of drama schoolssaid the situation has become so bad that they have had to set up emergency food stores for students, or buy them meals from their own pockets. Some students have had to drop out halfway through their courses because a parent died or could no longer afford the fees. Many others were unable to take up places at all.
Unlike university undergraduates, dance and drama students depend on discretionary awards from local education authorities (LEAs), which often choose not to fund their relatively expensive training.
More than one in four LEAs refuse to grant any such awards, said the survey, conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research. And less than half of the 109 LEAs in England and Wales which do give awards are prepared to pay the full amount - about pounds 30,000 over three years - necessary to pay fees and living expenses.
Last year, the number of students given dance or drama awards fell by 12 per cent and the total cash expenditure by 13 per cent. Music and art students receive mandatory grants.
Dame Diana Rigg, the actress who gained international fame in The Avengers, has described this trend as "very, very dangerous".
Forty years ago, she danced before 10 gentlemen at Leeds Town Hall to win a grant to go to Rada. At that time there was a trend towards investing in dance and drama.
"Now the trend is being reversed," she said. "About 10 years ago, I started getting letters from drama students who needed help with their fees. Some had places but couldn't afford to go. Others had done two years of their courses and then their grant was cut."
Simon Woods, the general manager of the Birmingham School of Speech and Drama, said 90 per cent of his students had to work on phone lines and in bars and restaurants to help pay their fees.
"The father of a student of ours became disabled two years into her course," he said. "She's now facing the prospect that she can't finish her training."
The college has had to set up a store of food - mainly pasta and canned tomatoes donated by supporters - to issue in emergencies. Students request supplies on a weekly basis.
Brenda Kaye, administrator of the Drama Centre in London, said many of her students are forced to live at home and travel hundreds of miles to and from college every day.
"We have students who cannot afford to eat," she said. "Members of staff pay for their meals out of their own pockets."