The real cost of “free” access to education for Scots.

Hello we’re back. It’s been a wee while since I blogged. 2 reasons for that. One I’ve been very busy. Two I decided to have a wee break to build up new ideas.

So here we are and something has happened recently that really has concerned me. For a month now I’ve been preparing for an audition at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, formally known as Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. I’ve had an invigorating and stimulating time preparing speeches from Macbeth and the anti McCarthyism play Inherit The Wind. I should probably explain here that this doesn’t mean I’m off to do a drama degree anywhere soon. More out of curiosity I wanted to apply to the top institution in Scotland to see what the process was like. Saying that had they accepted me I would have gone. They have a 90% employment rate and are held in pretty high regard.

So I arrived for my audition and we were met by Ashley a first year student from Scotland but who is based in Dubai. I asked Ashley if this meant she had to pay for her place. Yes she told me. Ashley’s mum and dad must have a lot of money I thought. However she was a lovely young woman with plenty to say for herself and her company was appreciated and enjoyable.

Me and three young women were then taken upstairs to the audition. Here I got talking to my fellow thesps. One young woman told me she’d been attending short courses that she’d paid for over the past couple of years with The Royal Conservatoire. Expensive she said but worth while. I assumed she’d have a good chance.

Then came my turn to do my…err…turn. I was quite gobsmacked to see one of the people auditioning me was none other than Scots heavyweight actress Daniela Nardini of This Life and ice cream dynasty fame. Her and her colleague Andy couldn’t have been nicer. I did my bits to the absolute best I could then we sat for a chat. Andy asked me if I didn’t get through would I come back next year and try again. Yes I probably would. Would you consider doing some of our short courses to broaden your experience. Yes I probably would. That was a wee fib but given the circumstance the appropriate answer. During our conversation I found myself explaining that now that I was in the audition process I may actually feel a bit guilty taking a place that could go to a young working class Scot. Now that the government had rid the country of tuition fees there must be a lot more opportunity for them. That and the fact I already have a career in entertainment and have been privilege to many an experience most folk could only dream of.  I’m talking more here about doing things like performing with Brenda Blethyn or doing warm up for Stewart Lee than say headlining Jongleurs Plymouth.

So then we had to wait for the recall. Here’s where I should explain just how competitive a process it is to get into this place. There are 24 places on the course and they get over a thousand applicants. They try to audition everybody. You pay for your audition (around 60 quid I think I recall may have been slightly less or more) On the day of your audition they see around 25-30 folk and then they call back around 5.

Before we went to see who had been called back I asked Ashley how many other Scots were in her class out of the 24 places. Including herself 5 she told me. I was pretty shocked to hear this. The other places were taken by a couple of overseas people and folk from England.

So I didn’t get the recall but a young working class laddie and four young women did. I did admittedly feel a bit deflated but also pleased to see the young laddie get through and wished him all the best.

So that was that I thought. But then they day took on a fairly unusual set of coincidences that gave me a much better insight into how selection at the Conservatoire may be working.

Afterwards I had a wee show to do at The Glasgow Stand comedy club and then made my way to their Edinburgh club to meet with some friends. Who should I bump into there but none other than two professional actor friends who I worked alongside in a sketch show for a few years but whom I’d lost contact with for almost the past 10 years. I told them where I’d been. And they introduced me to one of their friends a Scots actress who was a former alumni of the Conservatoire.

When did you attend and how many folk in your class were Scots I asked right away. Around 20 years ago and almost everybody was Scottish I was told. Yes it’s not like that anymore my actor friend told me. Now that the government has scrapped tuition fees for Scots they tend to only take four or five and they tend to come from Saudi Arabia and Dubai or such like which means they pay too. I was shocked.

I realised right away that rather than allowing Scots more access to education by scrapping fees it was having the opposite effect. Only the wealthy are getting the places. Perhaps I have some of this wrong. If there’s anyone out there who can set me right please do get in touch. But something tells me I’ve not.

Is this happening right across the spectrum of further education in Scotland? It would be nice to find out more.

Does the amount of private fees (I was also told a private student may pay up to 17’000 a year where a government funded one brings in about 9’000) effect the pay levels of the board and Deans of these institutions.

Something seems to have gone very wrong here. Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama would appear to no longer represent the interests of our own country folk. And that seems to be the real price of free education in Scotland.