Response from the Scottish Government

Today, we received a reply from the Scottish Government Higher Education and Learner Support Division to our letter asking for the introduction of living cost loans for DPLP students.

I have pasted the full text below for anyone who is really keen to plough through two pages of stuff that’s mostly irrelevant to what we asked (and arguably does not make much sense either). However, the key line is: there are no plans to re-introduce the living costs support for DPLP students. The only justification given is: the Scottish budget faces real and significant long term cuts in coming years and tough decisions have had to be made to prioritise spending.

You can judge for yourself but, to me, there appears to be little serious engagement with the issues raised. Our next step is to go back to the local MSPs to see if they can put any pressure on the government. If anyone wants to write to their own MSP on the issue, please do so! Feel free to borrow bits from (or use entirely) the letter we wrote to the Scottish Government.

————————————————-
PDF Version: Scottish Government Response to Initial Letter

Thank you for your letter of 21 February to Mr Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for
Education and Lifelong Learning, regarding the availability of student loans for living costs to
cover the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice students in academic year 2012/13. As a
member of the Higher Education and Learner Support Division Mr Russell has asked me to
thank you for your letter and to reply on his behalf.

The Law Society has demonstrated its commitment to widening access to the legal
profession to students from diverse backgrounds. However, concerns have been raised
both by students and HEIs that the Society still continued to assess “academic merit”, the
measure for allocation of the 300 PSAS funded DLP places, largely based on professional
subjects which the law students study in 1st or 2nd year of their undergraduate degrees.
There is some evidence that students from those lower income backgrounds take longer to
settle into university and do not start to “perform” to their full potential until 3rd or possibly 4th
year. It seems then to work against these students to measure their “merit” at such an early
stage of their academic development. You then have the perverse situation where
institutions widen access to the law profession on one hand, but the outgoing Law Society
selection criteria may have disadvantaged those students before they have time to develop.

The family income of DLP students suggests there is still a relatively narrow social profile of
graduate students seeking to undertake the next step in their legal training. When the
means-tested elements of postgraduate student support under the old PSAS were
examined, generally around 70 to 80 percent of applicants were awarded some element of
support. However, when you examine DLP students who applied to SAAS under the old PSAS only 30 to 40 percent were awarded any living cost grant.

Education and lifelong learning are key drivers for jobs and economic growth. The Spending
Review reflects our commitment to enable children and young people to improve their life
chances, reach their full potential and make the best possible contribution to Scotland’s
economy. However, the Scottish budget faces real and significant long term cuts in coming
years and tough decisions have had to be made to prioritise spending.

A new postgraduate loan scheme will commence in academic year 2012-13, loans of up to
£3,400 will be available to Scottish domiciled students (and EU). The new scheme will
support part-time study as well as full-time. The living cost element of the outgoing PSAS
scheme was discontinued 2 years ago and there are no plans to re-introduce the living costs
support for DLP students or other postgraduate students.

There are various alternative sources of financial support and you may find the following
general advice useful:

A Professional and Career Development Loan (PCDL) is a deferred payment bank loan to
help pay for vocational training, leading to employment in the UK or the EU. The course
must be vocational and can be full time, part time or distance learning. The loan can cover
up to two years of learning (or up to three years if the course includes work experience) and
can be between £300 and £10,000. Further information and guidance is available at
http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/EducationAndLearning/AdultLearning/CareerDevelopmentLoans/index
.htm.

The Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) maintains a Register of Educational Trusts
and Endowments containing details of all Scottish Trusts, and will search the Register on
completion of an enquiry form. A copy of the form can be obtained from SAAS by calling
0300-555-0505 or via their website at http://www.saas.gov.uk.

Another useful source of funding is the website http://www.scholarship-search.org.uk. You may
wish to visit this site which holds information on scholarships and sponsorships available to
students throughout the United Kingdom.

You may also find it helpful to visit the website http://www.postgraduatestudentships.co.uk which
provides information on postgraduate funding available in the UK.

There are also educational trusts and charities that make individual awards to students.

Potentially useful publications include the Educational Grants Directory, the Charities Digest,
the Grants Register and the Directory of Grant Making Trusts, all of which are available from larger public libraries.

Advertisements

Letter to Local MSPs

In addition to sending the letter to the Cabinet Secretary, I have also sent a copy to all the Lothian list MSPs (Sarah Boyack, Kezia Dugdale, Neil Findlay (all Lab), Gavin Brown, David McLetchie (both Con), Alison Jonstone (Green) and Margo MacDonald (Ind)) plus Marco Biagi (SNP), the constituency MSP for Old College.

The email accompanying the letter goes like this:

Dear Mr Biagi, Ms Boyack, Mr Brown, Ms Dugdale, Mr Findlay, Ms Johnstone, Ms MacDonald and Mr McLetchie,

I am writing on behalf of the University of Edinburgh Law Students’ Council to you in your capacity as the local MSPs for the constituency and region in which our University is located. I am also conscious that two of you are involved in the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee, so may have a particular interest in this issue.

As you can see from the enclosed letter, we have written to the Scottish Government to ask that student loan funding for living costs is extended to cover students studying on the 1-year Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (DPLP). This is a compulsory part of the route for those seeking to enter the Scottish Legal Profession. Whilst it is to be welcomed that, as part of the recently announced changes to postgraduate funding, loans covering 50% of course fees are now available to all, loans for living costs are not available. We believe that this continues the situation where there are significant hurdles to entry to the legal profession for those for whom parental support or funding from savings is not an option.

We would ask for your support in asking the Scottish Government to extend student loans to cover this course.

We would also welcome any advice as to how we can pursue this issue further, and would be delighted to discuss the issue further with any of you, either by phone, email or in person.

I will post an update with any responses.

Our initial letter to the Scottish Government

At our meeting today, the LSC resolved to write to the Scottish Government to raise the issue of the non-availability of student loans to cover living costs for Diploma students.

The text of the letter addressed to Mr Michael Russell MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Culture and Lifelong Learning, is reproduced below. We have also copied the letter to the constituency and regional MSPs for the University. We will also engage with EUSA, the School of Law, the Law Society (…and anyone else we can think of – suggestions welcome…!).

We will let you know if there is any reply!!

———————————————————

PDF Version: 20120221 – UoE Law Students Council Letter to Cab Sec for Ed – Final

Dear Mr Russell,

I am writing on behalf of the University of Edinburgh Law Students’ Council to ask the Scottish Government to extend eligibility for student loans for living costs to cover the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (DPLP) for next academic year (2012/13).

The Law Students’ Council is the elected representative body for all students at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Law. As you will be aware, completion of the DPLP is a compulsory part of the usual route by which graduates enter the Scottish legal profession. We have therefore been following the recent changes to postgraduate funding with great interest.

We see it as a very positive change that partial fees funding will now be available to all students undertaking the DPLP. However, this only partially addresses the costs facing potential DPLP students. They must also find around £3,000 to top-up the loan to pay their fees and then support themselves through an academic year of extremely demanding and time-intensive vocational study. With limited opportunity to undertake part-time work, students will be forced to rely on parents or on savings whilst they study. For many from a less-advantaged background, neither of these options will be possible. Regardless of their aptitude for the legal profession, these students face a potentially insurmountable barrier.

We acknowledge that the legal profession itself should play a greater role in ensuring the profession is accessible to all with the ability. We will continue to do what we can to lobby the Law Society of Scotland on this matter and we are sure you will be doing the same. However, by extending student loans for living costs to the DPLP, the Scottish Government could make a massive contribution to overcoming this problem for those for whom self-funding is not a possibility. There are likely to be around only 600 DPLP students next year, whilst the means-testing of student loans will ensure only those who really need assistance benefit. The salary of trainee lawyers also means most loans will be repaid very shortly after completion of the DPLP. As we understand it, this change requires only an amendment to the relevant secondary legislation, so could be achieved quickly if the Government wished to do so.

We appreciate that this would distinguish the DPLP from other courses funded by the Postgraduate Studies Award Scheme (PSAS). But, as we understand it, the DPLP is the only PSAS-funded course that is a requirement for entry to a particular profession. This places the DPLP in the same category as other, non-PSAS, postgraduate courses, specifically the PGDE and DipSW (required for postgraduate entry to the teaching and social work professions). Living costs funding is available for students on these courses. We believe that similar provision for DPLP students is justified.

We note that your priority for higher education in your New Year statement is ‘…making sure that opportunities for skills are available to every young person’. Extending the eligibility for student loans to cover DPLP students would be a simple but extremely effective contribution to achieving this priority and to working towards equal access to the legal profession for all those with the motivation and attributes to succeed. We would ask you to bring forward these changes in time for students starting the DPLP at Scottish Universities in September 2012. Without this, widening access to fees funding will make little practical difference to students who cannot rely on wealthy parents to fund this compulsory part of their legal education.

We would of course be delighted to provide any further information or to meet with you to discuss these matters further. We are also hoping to raise awareness of this issue by copying this letter to our local MSPs and by seeking the support of other interested organisations.

Yours sincerely,

Matt Grogan                                   Tim Haddow
President                                         Vice-President
Law Students’ Council                Law Students’ Council