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!!

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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

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