Archive for September 4th, 2009

Well… I was sitting outside, having exhausted all the possibilities of self amusement with my Samsung Jet mobile smartarse phone, when I saw a tweet about Apollo buying BPP Law School. BPP Law School is always of interest to me given my past – and I reached for my glass of Rioja with a wry smile when I read an article in the  Independent Minds section of The Independent

American owner of McDonald’s of higher education gets foothold in UK market

BPP PLC  is no longer.  BPP, and with it BPP Law School, has been bought by the Americans… not just any old American, you understand, but by the owners of The University of Phoenix.

The significance of the takeover is that Apollo owns the University of Phoenix, the largest for-profit university in the USA with more than 400,000 students and ambitious plans to expand globally. Phoenix has been spooking American and British universities for years because it educates its students, who are working adults taking vocational courses, relatively cheaply. It packs them in and makes a great deal of money, which is why it is known as the McDonald’s of the university world.

Let me explain my current thinking on this… for what it is worth:

1. BPP Holdings PLC built up a world class brand through shrewd investment, making good hires and by applying well established financial and business ideals to their education business. The quality was world class – subject to the minor gremlins and glitches that every world class organisation suffers and subject, inevitably, to the charge that they were only in it for the money.  BPP Law School in recent years has raised its fees to become the most expensive provider of LPC and Bar education in the country and the law school contributed markedly, I would imagine, to the pacy share price of £6.20 on sale.

2.  Degree awarding powers of BPP Law School

I would imagine that Apollo were fascinated by BPP Law School – not just for the high profit margins but by an even bigger prize – the right to award degrees.  The right of BPP Law School to award degrees is not, I understand, limited to law degrees.  BPP Law School has the same right as any British university enjoys –  to award degrees in any subject. This latter point may prove to be the main reason Apollo was interested in acquiring BPP PLC.  We shall see, in time.

Before I make further comment I would like to put the issue of transparency in legal education back on the agenda.

3. Transparency in legal education

Peter Crisp, the  chief executive of BPP Law School, was invited by me to release the report from the Quality Assurance Agency which led to their being awarded degree awarding powers.  BPP is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.  Peter Crisp declined to do so, citing the restriction that the document was given to BPP in confidence. See my blog post: A tale of two tribes: Transparency in legal education where I pointed out to Peter Crisp that the QAA allowed organisations to release reports if they choose to do so.  Peter Crisp, on behalf of BPP Law School, is perfectly entitled to refuse to release the report but there is no bar to his doing so because of QAA or any other confidentiality provisions.

By contrast – Nigel Savage, CEO of The College of Law, when I put the same request to him about releasing the report on the College of Law which led to their being given degree awarding powers was more than happy to let me see it it.  I understand that he may even have plans to make it widely available at some time in the not too distant future.

I believe, with the high fees being charged to students, that students should be entitled to see objective assessments on the law schools they are interested in attending.  I believe that BPP should release this report given their standing in legal education and the power and influence they wield and will wield when Apollo moves things up a gear or two as they surely must and will.

The universities publish reports, The Law Society publishes reports on LPC providers.  The Bar Standards Board does not, as yet, publish assessment reports on providers of the BTPC (BVC as was) What I believe, however, is immaterial – it is what prospective students, prospective parents or sponsors who are footing the bill believe that is more important. I would be interested in hearing the views of LLB, GDL, LPC and Bar  students et al on this issue.  feel free to comment in the comments section below.

4. What will Apollo / BPP Law School do now?

I spoke to the QAA and they confirmed that it is not BPP Holdings PLC, the then parent company of BPP Law School, which has degree awarding powers – it is BPP Law School/BPP College of professional Studies.  Therefore all degrees which Apollo may wish to run courses and award degrees for will have to go through the BPP Law School/BPP College of Professional Studies  part of the operation and, presumably, be identified as such? This may not prove to be an issue, save for branding because, presumably, Apollo will not be able to use any vehicle other than the vehicle with degree powers to award the degrees?

Lucy Hodges in the Independent Minds article writes:

The parent company, Apollo, has an annual revenue of around £1.9bn and has already expanded into Mexico, the Netherlands and Germany. Now it is set to make its mark in Britain. Observers expect it to use its acquisition of BPP to set up business education courses in addition to the legal training already provided, as well as establish a significant British and pan-European platform, and expand advanced degrees and cross-border educational opportunities via online learning.

I would imagine that Apollo, given their track record in the United States and their ethos and business mores, will wish to leverage their acquisition and build – offering business degrees and, possibly,  try to penetrate a wider subject market in time. It would be baffling if they did not.

At present BPP and The College of Law have major penetration into the GDL, LPC and Bar course market, followed in price, sometimes fairly closely, by public sector providers.  The difficulty for both BPP and The College of Law in the degree market is one of being able to compete on price.  Public universities are capped, for the present at £3500 tuition fees per annum.  If this cap is removed under a Conservative government following the election next year – the scene could be very different.  Universities will, inevitably,  put their fees up and then they enter the waters inhabited by very big fish indeed – fish with a lot of expertise, experience and MONEY behind them.  It would not be an absurd forecast to suggest that Apollo / BPP may undercut the universities – The College of Law also, and if that happens then some UK university law schools could be in real trouble – because they won’t be able to compete in quality of teaching, resources and marketing with the big fish. Game, set and match?

Well…  as Lucy Hodges reported…

Professor Mike Thorne, an expert on distance learning and the vice-chancellor of Anglia Ruskin University, who has been watching the growth of for-profit universities over the past decade, does not believe British universities have much to fear, however. He says that Apollo, despite its might, has found it difficult to establish itself seriously outside the United States.

I am always interested in the views of experts, mavens and prognosticators – often because they can be spectacularly wrong.  I do not consider myself an expert, despite my background in legal education for 30 years and the founder of what is now a very large fish.   I think Professor Thorne could be wrong and I tend to side with Nigel Savage, CEO of The College of Law, who states…

…that the takeover of BPP will have implications that will be felt far beyond law schools. …Universities have got a lot to learn from the private sector,” he says. “I would not be surprised to see an organisation like Apollo or [other private providers, such as] Kaplan or Pearson actually acquiring an English university.”

Neither BPP Law School nor The College of Law are going to sit around talking about the future – they are going to shape it.

Their growth – and I have seen this at first hand – over the last ten years has been phenomenal – and the quality of both is world class.  The same cannot, sadly, be said of some university law schools. The culture of the private and quasi-private sector (The College of Law runs to corporate business theory and practice tolerances) is different from the Universities as far as I can see.  It would not surprise me at all if less well known law schools, which must already be suffering from lower recruitment because of the credit-crunch recession, find the struggle just too much and close.  I made myself unpopular years ago by suggesting that we might be advised to close some of the lesser known law schools down and put the money into the better and better known law schools.  My learned friends in academe just laughed  or hissed.  I may be proven right in the long term – not that it would give me any pleasure at all.

As ever, I am interested in your views, comments and thoughts.  Please feel free to comment (anonymity permitted) in the comments section below.


Of course… Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall has no relevance today…. Teacher…leave those kids alone… but it was a great song… have a look at the video.


9th September 2009

I missed this… The College of Law’s news section makes it clear that Nigel Savage is prepared to publish the QAA Report on The College of Law degree awarding power (15th July 2009)

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4th September: News up on Insite Law

The new Supeme Court website
Have a look. It is rather good and will be an important hub for information when the Supreme Court starts sitting in October.

The silly season is coming to an end and  people are getting back to the grindstone.  Insite Law, which has been active throughout the holiday (I never close), will be doing daily editorial and more detailed analysis of events from next week.  The FREE book resource project appears to be on track and is already being used by substantial numbers – students and practitioners.

Here is an absurd story about absurd British art.  I’m with the teenager on this one….

Teenage artist arrested for stealing pencils from Damien Hirst

Telegraph: Last year Cartrain was ordered by the Design and Artists Copyright Society to hand over collages based on Hirst’s famous diamond-encrusted skull, For the Love of God , and pay the £200 in profits he made.

In an act of revenge, Cartrain visited Hirst’s installation Pharmacy in July, which was being shown as part of Tate Britain’s Classified exhibition until it closed last month, and removed a few of the rare “Faber Castell dated 1990 Mongol 482 Series” pencils.

The enterprising teenager then mocked up a POLICE  WANTED poster offering to return the pencils if his artworks were returned.  But Plod decided this was the biggest art theft in recent times – valuing the  pencils at £500,00 because the whole absurd installation was worth £10 million.

I really don’t think people have their priorities right sometimes… Hirst is an amusing artist.  He is also a very, very, rich man.  I can think of better things for the Police to do. I suspect quite a few police officers will take a similar view – especially those who have to deal with yobs every Friday and Saturday night in our town centres – a rather unpleasant and dangerous activity for the police.

A rather ridiculous case – but there again, some art is rather ridiculous. The coppers said the pencils were worth £500,000 – what utter bollocks and a waste of public money in police time.

I am thinking about doing an “Installation” – a pile of dung  and call it “Dung doing real art – a pile of shit for our times” 2009 Crap on canvas, Charon QC:  pissartist in residence in his Medway years.

The trouble is… if Hirst did the same thing and signed it – some prat would come out of a gated residence in Mayfair and buy the f*****ig thing for absurd amounts of money! – or, possibly, do the modern thing and buy it online to avoid having to mix with normal people. Hey… and why not.  .

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