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We need career development loans

What with Brexit and the football I suppose there’s never been a better time to bury bad news. Of course there was no gushing, flowery press release to announce what I have found quietly posted on the Gov.uk website. This, copied and pasted verbatim, is what it says:

The Professional and Career Development Loan scheme is closing. You must apply by 25 January 2019. This will not affect your existing loan.

In just three sentences, that stark announcement shatters the training prospects of hundreds of potential performers who want unadulterated vocational training or any form of “alternative” training – as opposed to anything called a degree offered in a drama school or university whose students are entitled to student loans.

Some people have used PCDLs to pay for foundation courses or postgraduate degrees too – but now they can’t.

PDCLs are (were) offered by banks, usually Barclays or the Co-op. They would lend over-18s who fulfilled UK residency criteria anything between £300 and £10,000 at a reduced rate of interest to pay for career-advancing courses and training. They were available for careers of all sorts but, obviously it’s performing arts I’m concerned about here.

The government paid the interest while the borrower was studying. Well, I have no figures so I don’t know what this arrangement cost the tax payer but since we are talking interest only for a relatively small group I can’t believe that, in the scheme of things and in national terms, it was a huge amount. This penny-pinching decision smacks of ignorance and anti-elitism. I can imagine some civil servant and/or junior minister who knows nothing whatsoever about the performing arts industry, apart from taking his/her kids to panto each year, saying “What do they need career development loans for?  Let’s axe them. They can go to university and get a student loan if they want to train.”

Everyone in the industry is working  proverbial socks off to be inclusive. We want performers (and theatre technicians) to emerge from backgrounds of all sorts. Eddie Redmayne and Damian Lewis (both from privileged backgrounds)  are excellent actors but we need Patterson Joseph and Michelle Dockery (both from working class families) as well. A decision to end PCDLs will make it even more difficult for wannabe performing arts professionals whose families are unable to support them.

There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all training. Of course drama school and university is the right route for some although many families, often debt-averse all their lives, are very doubtful about tuition fees even though they don’t have to be paid back until quite a high income threshold is reached.

But there are some students who want a different sort of training – perhaps with an independent provider. Others take an ill-advised university course, realise at the end that they’re not industry ready and have to train vocationally elsewhere – but they’ve already used their student loan entitlement on the degree.

PCDLs were a lifeline for students like these. Now that such loans have gone many of them will simply not be able to pursue the career they want – irrespective of how talented they are. There are a few scholarships about but “few” is the operative word.

And if some talented young people fall at the first hurdle because they can’t fund their training they will have no option but to go away and do something else. And the industry will be a poorer – less diverse – place. Made so by a short-sighted government decision.

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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