Edinburgh University Students’ Association Statement

Following a meeting between a representative of the CFALP steering group and Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA), EUSA recently issued a statement lending support to CFALP’s arguments and campaign objectives.

In the statement, James McAsh, President of EUSA comments:

Tuition fees and living costs are two key financial barriers to postgraduate education and currently there is just not enough support available for postgraduate students to ensure that all those who are able to pursue study at that level are able to do so. This is a huge barrier to widening access to the professions in particular where postgraduate study is essential.

The £3,400 that is currently available towards the cost of tuition fees for the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (DPLP) is well short of the total sum for fees and living costs. This means that many able students cannot overcome the financial barriers to be able to study the DPLP because they are not able to fill the gap in funding.

James also reiterated EUSA’s position on postgraduate funding:

Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) is calling on the Scottish Government to introduce a postgraduate loans system in Scotland which will cover all upfront tuition fees and provide postgraduate students with a minimum income of £7000 living support. The Scottish Government has recognised that this is the level of support that students need when at University and have increased support for undergraduate students. It is no different for postgraduate students.

The full statement is published on EUSA’s website here.

Welcome to our campaign blog…

CFALP Logo

The Campaign for Fair Access to the Legal Profession (CFALP) is a national campaign being run by law students at Scotland’s Universities.  We are concerned that the current government funding for students who want to be lawyers excludes those from less privileged backgrounds.

We are campaigning for the Scottish Government to extend means-tested student loans for living costs to students undertaking the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (DPLP).

A summary of our aims and arguments is here.   Updates will be posted on this blog.  Feel free to explore the website for further detail and background.

Guardian Scotland Blog: Scottish law ‘will remain middle class unless ministers act’

An opinion piece by Tim Haddow, a member of the CFALP steering group, was published in today’s Guardian Scotland blog.  The article is written by him in his personal capacity and not on behalf of CFALP.

The article concludes:

Scotland’s legal system should fairly balance the needs and interests of all sections of society; that task will be almost impossible if the legal profession itself is overwhelmingly drawn from those from the most privileged backgrounds.

And if, in 25 years time, we are still lamenting the fact that our senior judges are mostly privately educated, it will because the Scottish government is doing nothing today to ensure that increasing diversity amongst law graduates is reflected in a broader legal profession.

The full piece can be read here.

Scottish Government Response

As reported in the Herald and Scottish Legal News, the Scottish Government issued a short press statement in response to the media coverage of our letter to the Cabinet Secretary.

The version published in Scottish Legal News is slightly longer, so appears to be the full statement:

Scottish Government Logo

As part of the Scottish Government’s improvements to post-graduate support, an extra 2,300 students, including those sitting a diploma in professional legal practice, will be eligible for loan support of up to £3,400 towards the cost of their tuition fees.

Previously only 2,700 students a year had been eligible for funding under the postgraduate student allowances scheme. This means that thousands more of the very best students have fair access an additional stage of academia, based on ability to learn, not ability to pay.

Clearly, this statement is a disappointing response to our letter to the Cabinet Secretary.  It merely repeats the  argument that the current arrangements already represent ‘fair access’ based on ‘ability to learn, not ability to pay’.  There is no attempt to address our argument, made in the letter, that the PTFL is wasteful and ineffective in terms of widening access.

There also seems no change in the government’s lack of recognition of any distinction between the DPLP and other postgraduate courses that are not prerequisites for  entry into specific professions.  Instead, the statement lumps the DPLP together with other postgraduate courses and discusses them as ‘an additional stage of academia’, something the DPLP is clearly not.

This response is only a brief statement produced at short notice to maintain the current government position.  It is hoped that the formal government response, when it comes, more carefully engages with our arguments.

Law Society of Scotland ‘hopes ministers will reconsider’

As reported in the Scottish Legal News, the Law Society of Scotland yesterday issued a supporting our campaign.

When the changes to postgraduate funding were announced, the Law Society of Scotland voiced its concern about the potential impact on access to the legal profession. We pressed the Scottish Government to reconsider its decision in relation to the diploma in legal practice, which is a requirement to qualify as a solicitor in Scotland.

As we approach the new academic year when the move from grant funding to loan funding commences, our concerns remain and still hope that Scottish Ministers will reconsider.

It is encouraging to see students in each of the ten universities offering the LLB coming together to campaign for improved funding for the diploma in professional legal practice and we congratulate them on this excellent new initiative.

Herald: ‘Student leaders urge support for potential lawyers’

Herald Logo

Today’s Herald carried an article reporting our letter to the Cabinet Secretary (Tuesday 14 August, p9).

The online version of the article is here.

Our letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Education

As our first act, CFALP has today written to the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Mr Mike Russell MSP.  The text of our letter is reproduced below.

CFALP Logo

Campaign for Fair Access

to the Legal Profession

Scottish law students campaigning against financial
barriers to a representative profession

Dear Mr Russell,

The Campaign for Fair Access to the Legal Profession (CFALP) is a national campaign coordinated by those representing law students at all ten Scottish universities that offer the LLB. We are writing to ask you to reconsider your decision not to extend student maintenance loans to students on the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (DPLP).

CFALP has been formed by concerned law students as we believe the current route to qualification as a Scottish lawyer and the Scottish Government’s policy of providing only a very limited level of student support to DPLP students creates a situation where those without substantial financial resources are excluded from the legal profession. 

We all know students who cannot consider – or have had to abandon – dreams of a legal career simply because they cannot afford to pay for the DPLP. But our concern is not just for the individuals. We believe that the Scottish Government’s current policy is leaving a legacy of an unrepresentative legal profession that will remain with Scottish society for many years. Unless we work now to create a profession open to all on merit, not wealth, the profession will continue to be overwhelmingly the preserve of those from privileged backgrounds. And without a representative legal profession, the task of building a legal system that fairly represents the needs and interests of all sections of Scottish society will be almost impossible.

We understand and appreciate that you recently extended the availability of course fee contributions through the Postgraduate Tuition Fee Loan (PTFL). But we are equally clear that the retention of the £3,400 cap, in the context of a total cost of study (fees and living costs) of around £12,000, means the PTFL makes no real difference to students who cannot rely on well-off parents. The PTFL is also entirely untargeted, so the net result is that the additional support will almost exclusively go to those who do not need it. The PTFL is thus, by itself, wasteful as well as ineffective in terms of widening access. 

You have previously highlighted the availability of Professional and Career Development Loans (PCDL). As you acknowledge, Scottish Ministers have no control over the lending criteria for these commercial loans, so they cannot be targeted at those who really need assistance. Inevitably, it will be to these students that the banks are least likely to lend. And in the context of the difficulties of securing a training contract after the DPLP, it is unrealistic, even irresponsible, to suggest financially vulnerable students should take on large amounts of commercial debt with no certainty of well-paid employment at the end of their course. The PCDL therefore can do little to widen access to the legal profession. 

In contrast, we believe that extending undergraduate student maintenance loans to DPLP students would give meaningful and targeted assistance to those excluded from the legal profession by the current system. It would be straightforward and quick to introduce and would bring law into line with other professions requiring postgraduate qualifications, including architecture, teaching and social work, where extended student support is available.

Such action would make the DPLP a realistic option for students without substantial financial resources. It would allow all those with the necessary ability and ambition to compete on merit for legal training contracts, regardless of the section of society from which they come. And it would begin to tackle the massive under-representation in law of those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds.

On behalf of all Scottish law students who want to see a representative legal profession, a legal system that meets the needs and interests of all, and a fairer and more just society, we would urge you to take action now to extend student maintenance loans to DPLP students.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Phillips
President, Law Society, Aberdeen University
Davide Penna
President, Law Society, Abertay University
Clare McCaughey
President, Law Society, Dundee University
Ashley Gilfillan
Joint President, Law Society, Edinburgh Napier University
Tim Haddow
Law Students’ Council, Edinburgh University
Michael Langridge
Chair, Law Society, Glasgow Caledonian University
Lisa Sweeney
President, Law Society, Glasgow University
Fraser Grier
Law Rep, Student Representative Council,  Glasgow University
Sarah Gorski
President, Law Society, Robert Gordon University
William Rennie
President, Law Society, Stirling University
Matthew Jamieson
Vice-President, Law Society, Strathclyde University

A pdf copy is available here: 20120813 – CFALP Letter to Cab Sec for Ed