Thursday, 11 October 2018

Upselling Education

A Nation of Shopkeepers - or Why is Upselling Courses the Latest Trend?


Back in 1776 (a nice Musical Theatre referenced year), Adam Smith called Britain a 'Nation of Shopkeepers'. 2 and a half centuries later that phrase is still correct. We sometimes only think of America as the 'place of dreams', but here in the UK we are also surrounded by people who have started from nothing and created their own businesses turning them into global market leaders.

I'm in awe of the people that have managed to do that, and admire their single-mindedness. However I believe that education is different. I feel really strongly that people shouldn't profit from education. Now it's a tough one as all colleges are encouraged to have a large financial 'safety net' in case of emergencies, so with that recommendation comes a need to create a cushion of money that's available should something awful happen, so some profiteering is essentially built into the business plans before you start training anyone.

Nowadays to train to be an actor is hugely expensive - indeed to train to be anything is almost guaranteeing you to have a bill of at least £27k. I think that sometimes because the Student Loans have been around for so long, people lose sight of what that much money really means. Many drama courses cost even more than that. In fact you can now be charged as much as £54K for a course at a top college. To put that into perspective, you could buy a house in some parts of the country for what it would cost you to train at a top drama/dance college.

With the average cost of training to be a performer now sitting at around £40k I find it rather upsetting to see colleges effectively upselling.  The most obvious example of this is the number of colleges that you can now apply to, and whilst you don't get offered a place on their 3 year programme, you do get offered a place on their Foundation Course? Now to me this makes no sense. It's like going into a shop to buy bread and coming out with fabric conditioner. It's not what you were applying for, but somehow you've ended up buying it. These courses though are not cheap - you can expect to pay £7k-£10k for a Foundation course.

So to be clear you could end up paying in excess of £60K for your training at the end of it all (and that doesn't include your living expenses).

In addition to this several colleges are now charging extra for certain things - but things that you'd expect to be included in the price of the course. Extra charges for 1:1 singing lessons, 'show fees', where people are contributing to the cost of the shows, in other words we essentially have colleges offering a premium package, whereby if they pay extra you can take part in extra stuff.

All of the above really starts to add up - and nobody is regulating this industry!

In fairness to the colleges that run Foundation courses alongside their 3 year option, they all (as I understand it), make it really clear to the people on their course that there is no guarantee that they'll get onto their main programme at the end of the year?

So to go back to the beginning, you applied for one course, you weren't deemed ready for it, so they've offered you another one in a bid to improve your skillset, you've taken the course (because let's face it, that college was your first choice, so you're hoping to woo them over the course of the year), then at the end of the year the majority of people will be £10k poorer and still won't get into their first choice college. However that is now £10k that you've invested out of your 'training money'.

I understand that lots of people do the foundation courses as they're hoping that their skillset will improve so much they'll be more likely to receive some elusive DaDa funding. So they're essentially gambling with their money in a bid to secure funding for the next phase of their training.  Sadly for the majority of students on these courses though, this won't happen. So when they eventually DO get onto a 3 year programme (or like The MTA . . . a two year programme), they can no longer afford their training, as they spent it on the gamble.

Reading on line, students are turning down places on well respected courses because they've been offered a foundation course at their preferred college. I just don't get it though. I mean if you're from a 'money's no object' background, then do what you like, but a lot of these students are actually from backgrounds where parents are struggling to pay the fees.

I suppose the argument from the college's point of view is that if they were to call them back in order to specifically audition for their foundation courses, they would be costing the applicant more money in travel etc. But surely a every course is looking for something different?

Before everybody comments stating that their foundation course was amazing, and they wouldn't be where they were without it etc, let me be clear. I'm not dismissing the training and the value of a foundation course, I'm just not so keen on the fact that you end up being offered a course that you never applied for.  Maybe I'm wrong, maybe some colleges have something like a tick box on their application form asking you if you'd like to be considered for any of their courses? If so - bravo to them.

For those places who don't make it clear which course people are really going for though - maybe some transparency?

It's an uncomfortable truth that whilst 'we' at The MTA are getting people industry-ready in 2 years, some people are now doing 4 years or more in order to train to be a performer. The costs involved are huge. Just don't spend all of your savings on the gamble.

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