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

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