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Archive for October 13th, 2010

If you would like to read it?….. It was a pleasure to be asked and I may have been over refreshed when I answered the  questions!

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The New Statesman thunders / drones away (take your pick, depending on political persuasion / principles – or, if you are a Lib-Dem front bench minister…… find some principles…….)

Will this picture come back to haunt Nick Clegg?

New Statesman: He was among 57 Lib Dem MPs who signed an NUS pledge to vote against any rise in university tuition fees.

The Lord Browne proposals to remove the cap on university fees cannot possibly have come as a shock to anyone with even the vaguest understanding of tertiary education. I have been involved in degree and post-graduate and professional legal education for over thirty years – most of that in the private sector where fees are charged.  The College of Law, Kaplan, BPP Law School, City University,  et al are all charging astonishing fees at £14,000 + for the new Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) – and those who wish to go on to a career at the Bar (which may or not be profitable – or even begin) have no alternative but to pay those fees if they want in.

College of Law supports Browne’s plans on higher education

The Law Society Gazette: The government must follow Lord Browne’s recommendation to remove the fee cap on higher education, the College of Law said today.

Such a move is necessary to increase competition between higher education establishments, and remove the ‘dividing line’ between public and private tertiary education, the College said.

Chief executive Nigel Savage said that higher education establishments that train students in professional subjects need ‘robust relationships’ with the commercial sector, and that greater diversity in higher education is ‘critically important’.

He said that higher education providers must deliver greater quality if they decide to charge students higher fees.

Nigel Savage is right on one thing – if the universities are to charge higher fees, they will find students demanding higher standards and no shortage of lawyers to represent their interests should litigation be required to hold universities to account.

The private sector – and for this purpose public sector universities running the LPC and BPTC which  operate to private sector standards – is used to vocal students and knows all too well that if they do not deliver to the standard advertised, and reasonably expected,  complaints will come in thick and fast; some complaints leading to litigation.

I am still thinking about the Lord Browne proposals.   I would like to make a number of predictions.  I write only about universities offering law programmes.

1.  Weaker universities offering law degrees will fail. I would not be surprised if we see 10-15% of law faculties at the bottom of the ranking getting into real difficulty.  They will not be able to charge the higher fees of a Russell Group university.  They will not, therefore, be able to compete on quality and standard of teaching and resource – quite apart from the fact that the legal profession may well reduce in size and not be interested in taking students from the weaker universities.

2.  Russell Group universities will improve the quality of teaching provision – they will have no alternative but to do so and, in any event, it will make good business sense in the new era of competition.

3.  There are some very talented people working in Russell Group and other top universities. These younger members of faculty have already seen the growth enjoyed by The College of Law, BPP and Kaplan.  Legal education is a multi-million pound business.  I would be very surprised if some top universities do not, now, investigate the possibility of running LPC and BPTC programmes as part of a degree and post-graduate degree offering.

4.  If my prediction Number 3 is correct,  this will put The College of Law, BPP, Kaplan, City et al under severe pressure – partly because the top universities will offer a combined degree / professional course 9with an add on LLM) more cheaply but also because they enjoy a better reputation internationally.  If, for example, Cambridge University was to offer a degree + LLM + LPC/BPTC,  would you rather have their qualification or one from the existing providers?

5.  Competition is coming. The fees hike, while significant, is not insurmountable for law students where the prospect of a reasonable career exists – provided they are realistic about their own ability to meet the standard required by the leading employers or the rigours of a highly competitive world of private practice at the Bar or as a general practitioner in a solicitors firm.

6.  I also foresee that the length of degree and professional  courses will come down, perhaps to two years, possibly even eighteen months. This will reduce the cost without unduly impairing the coverage.  It is not ideal – but needs may well force this change.  Online legal education is on the rise – this could be exploited to cut time and costs. I discussed this issue years ago with Lord Goldsmith in relation to Bar education when he asked me and a colleague for advice on that issue.

Having set up BPP Law School with BPP Holdings PLC 20 years ago, I know how difficult it was to get a foothold and establish a well structured course – but it isn’t that difficult and is well within the capability of the top law departments in the top universities.  It is about (a) Money to resource (b) Attitude to service and (c) Getting the right people in to teach it – and recognising, for professional courses, that teaching is more important than research.  The fees generated from professional courses will, of course, provide funds for research – which is vitally important.

Law is a relatively easy field to predict. Many lawyers will enjoy a good career – some will earn fantastic amounts of money,  so a debt over 30 years should not be a major obstacle.  I have no idea what will happen to arts courses where job prospects based on the field studied are not so easy to come by. The tragedy is, to some extent, that education at university is (or should be) more about education than business.  We lived in a changed world.

I didn’t get a grant. I refused to take money from my parents once I was 18 – largely because I didn’t want anyone telling me what to do, let alone my old man.  I dug graves and winged it with a very generous overdraft from National Westminster – about 30k in today’s money.  It took me some time to pay it back and I didn’t get too many unpleasant letters. We didn’t have to pay fees.  I think our generation and those who didn’t have to pay fees were very lucky indeed.

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Why the top law schools can charge more despite greater competition

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