Students granted dramatic support

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Students who struggle to afford their place at dance or drama school are to benefit from a new scheme using lottery money, the Arts Council announced yesterday.

Independent drama and dance colleges will be able to apply on behalf of students for joint government and lottery grants, to help fund the pounds 7,000 a-year tuition fees.

Lord Gowrie, chairman of the Arts Council, said the scheme was an interim measure designed to bridge the gap until the Government can find a means of supporting training for these students. He warned it was not a perfect solution.

"I am delighted that the Government has now gone a considerable way towards acknowledging the anomaly in the funding of students of dance and drama as compared with music and the visual arts,'' he said.

"This scheme is not perfect, as it still depends on the local authority giving out a discretionary grant, but now they will not have to pay out as much and may be more willing to help."

The number of discretionary grants awarded has fallen by 44 per cent since 1987, but under the new scheme, a student will only need a grant of pounds 1,250 before the college can make up the rest of the course fees.

The scheme will run for four years. It will cover the full, two- and three-year courses for dance and drama students and two-year stage management courses, beginning in autumn 1997 and 1998.

Martin Brown, spokesman for Equity, said the organisation welcomed the scheme. "We welcome anything that eases the burden on dance and drama students but we look forward to a permanent resolution to the problem of funding.

"Grants for dance and drama should be mandatory,'' he said.

Ivor Widdison, of the council of local education authorities, said about 20 LEAs out of a total 140 had agreed in principle to the scheme.

"The LEAs are in dire financial straits and their ability to award discretionary grants has fallen dramatically but we acknowledge that something needed to be done and this scheme has merit,'' he said. Nicholas Barter, principal of Rada, welcomed the announcement but urged the Government to tackle the long-term problem: "We are delighted that the Arts Council has come up with this scheme but there needs to be a proper solution.''

"We are only asking for parity with music and arts students who get mandatory grants.''

Simon Woods, general manager of Birmingham School of Speech and Drama, said they were delighted by the news. "It is not the whole solution but at least it is something," he said.