Yesterday my social media feeds were filled with people desperately attempting to fundraise to save Read College. According to their posts they have until 12th December to raise £40,000 in order to re-open in January. Once again students were online attempting to save a place that they had already invested in, whilst their alumni were online extolling the college and everything that it had done for them. Deja vu? Triggering? Both. . .but with a feeling of inevitability. There was sadly no surprise in seeing the posts.
In July 2021 that was The MTA’s story, albeit from a different angle. Back then we were simply announcing that we were closing, it was our students and ambassadors that launched a frankly ridiculous appeal to raise the £250k that we needed to be sustainable for a year. I say ridiculous but as you know thanks to the promise of a few large donations we were able to be saved, yet still our story didn’t have a happy ending (other than we managed to get another year group through their full training).
I have written about this so many times now – but drama training is unsustainable in the UK under the current funding routes. The training industry is going through the same metamorphosis as the local High Street – small, independent colleges are slowly being consumed by larger colleges. GSA is now part of the University of Surrey, Urdang is part of City University, Performers & Masters are now part of BIMM. To continue my analogy, the friendly, local butchers have become a small section in a larger supermarket. For those that are yet to sell out the way that the funding works if a college took the poison chalice of the degree route via an affiliated college, doesn’t cover the costs of a course. In other words, if a college has gone into partnership with a larger university in order to get their degree status, it’s with the expectation that they grow, otherwise they’re not a valuable learning partner to the university. Let’s not forget that universities are businesses.
In order to become sustainable we’ve seen the rise of all colleges offering a plethora of satellite courses eg Masters, online, part-time and….foundation courses, which sadly means that the smaller, specialist foundation courses such as Read miss out. Throw Brexit into the financial mix (because it’s hugely relevant here) and colleges are imploding. Most UK colleges fleeced overseas students by offering them access to their courses at an inflated price. A practice that I’ve never understood, and one that we resolutely never did at The MTA. So part of the pre-Brexit business model was to take X amount of overseas students at an inflated price, which made the courses sustainable for the UK students who were being subsidised by the government (and their overseas friends).
Post-Brexit a large percentage of colleges (predominantly those that don’t validate their own degrees, so who are affiliated with larger universities) are no longer eligible to sponsor an overseas student to train with them. The result is a massive drop in income. Their solution? Run more courses and take more UK students. Better to “stack ’em high” than re-model. More students mean the need for more studios, more studios cost a lot of money . . . and so the carousel turns.
It’s important to note here that even though performer courses are massively oversubscribed – that does not equate to an increase in talented students. It equates to some students being offered places on courses with no chance of actually making it within the industry. Elite training is increasingly limited to a handful of colleges. Elite training with a percentage of financial fillers is becoming the norm.
With the government being very vocal about wanting to make the funding for universities reflective of the results of the courses I fear that the landscape is going to change substantially over the next few years. You see, the irony of taking on the financial filler students will be the downfall of many a college, as their stats just won’t reflect the success needed to secure the government funding. Add to that the number of universities that have always offered sub-standard courses (16 hours/week of contact time anyone?) and we’re likely to see the closing of many more courses and colleges.
Our only route out of this would have been to have stuck to the diploma model, as the funding attached to that accurately reflected the cost of training. However as we’ve demonstrated too well, that area is deeply flawed too, as the organisation which currently holds the keys to that funding stream operate outside of any regulatory body. Trinity is simply not fit for purpose.
Read College, like The MTA, worked with small groups of students. They always knew their students, and their stats speak for themselves. Again like The MTA, with limited resources, they worked hard to ensure that their training was accessible to everyone. Yet another college that’s remained scandal free getting penalised for not growing.
Once again the FDS and indeed the other colleges are failing to speak out about what’s happening. Why aren’t they all helping to raise awareness of their plight? Why aren’t they working with Read, after all, a lot of the colleges have been grateful to accept Read students over the years? Once again though, like with The MTA, everybody is keeping their head down, no doubt thankful that it’s not their turn.
When The MTA was going through its difficulties we were very much having to go through it alone. Even our ongoing fight with Trinity, which, let’s not forget, is to hold them accountable to ensure that no other college meets the same fate as us, has been a fight that we’ve had to take on alone. Equity, Spotlight, OfQual, you name the organisation that you’d think would be helping and you’d be met with silence.
To Jamie and Helen at Read College, please know that The MTA is rooting for you, and we sincerely hope you raise the necessary funds in time. As for the rest of the training industry. . . who’s going to be next?
Here’s a link to the “Save Read College” Appeal: https://www.paypal.com/donate/?campaign_id=BRA4LVW78UQMJ&source=url