Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow calls on Scottish Government to act on fair access

The Council of the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow today issued a statement supporting our campaign for fair access and calling on the government to extend student maintenance loans to DPLP students.  They are adding their voice to other parts of the profession including the Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association (SYLA), the Scottish Legal Action Group and the Trainee and Newly Qualified Society (TANQ).

The Council’s statement says:

The Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow supports the aims of the Campaign for Fair Access to the Legal Profession. It is in the interests of the legal profession and society as a whole that talented individuals (regardless of privilege or financial background) be given the opportunity to enter the profession. With the current cap of £3,400 of contribution to fees for the Diploma in Professional Practice and the fact that DPLP students are not entitled to student loans for living expenses there is a real possibility that aspiring lawyers from less well-off backgrounds may be deterred from pursuing a career in law. The extension of student loans for maintenance to those studying for the DPLP would be a very positive step towards affording equality of opportunity to potential entrants to the legal profession.

The text of the statement is published here on the RFPG’s website.

Scottish Government responds to CFALP

CFALP has received a formal response from the Scottish Government to our letter to Mike Russell MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Education. Signed off by a civil servant, it confirms that the government does not intend to meet our request to extend living cost loans to DPLP students. It states:

 there are no plans to re-introduce [an award to cover] living costs

The letter does not repeat the assertion, made by the Scottish Government in their previous press statement, that the current arrangements already give ‘access based on ability to learn, not ability to pay’. Instead, budgetary pressures are blamed:

the Scottish budget faces real and significant long term cuts in coming years and tough decisions have had to be made to prioritise spending.

Limited resources mean that we are not able to reintroduce student loans for living costs to DPLP students, rather we have chosen to use the money available to support more postgraduate students in meeting the cost of tuition fees.

Whilst this change of emphasis may represent a welcome, if tacit, acceptance that current arrangements do not give fair access to the DPLP, the focus on the Scottish Government’s choices merely highlights the fact that the current situation is one of the government’s own making.

The letter goes on to reiterate the changes that have been made to postgraduate funding:

The living cost element of the outgoing Postgraduate Students’ Allowances Scheme (PSAS) was discontinued 2 years ago to enable us to use the funding to increase the number of students eligible to receive tuition fee support. The number increased from 1,820 to 2,700….The new [postgraduate loans] scheme will also mean that around 5,000 full and part-time postgraduate students will be eligible to apply for the Postgraduate Tuition Fee Loan, which is nearly twice the number of those who were able to benefit under PSAS.

The increased number of loans may make good headlines. But, as we have previously argued, keeping the support for any single student to a low level to spread the assistance as widely as possible results in a system that is ineffective and wasteful.

It is ineffective as the £9,000 or more students must still find makes studying a financial impossibility for all but well-off students. And it is wasteful as this means the available government support almost all goes to students who could afford to study without it – surely not the Scottish Government’s intention.

The recent, and welcome, announcement of improved student support for undergraduates also shows that the government is willing to invest in its political priorities. In this context, it is disappointing that no thought appears to using the changes to open up the route to the legal profession for less well-off students. As discussed here, those benefiting from the improved undergraduate support include well-off undergraduates, whose minimum loan increases from under £1000 to over £4000. And those in their fifth year of study training to be architects and vets will also benefit. Yet DPLP students remain without meaningful assistance. Surely securing fair access to the legal profession and a more representative legal system deserves at least equal priority to improving support for these groups.

The letter also makes some minor points about the policy reasons for equivalent support being available to trainee teachers and social workers. These may well be valid but, once again, highlights that the government is prepared to provide such support where it sees a need.

CFALP is disappointed that the government either does not see a representative legal profession and legal system as a priority or still does not understand the way in which its policies are making the profession increasingly the preserve of the privileged. 

We will continue our campaign to persuade the government that it can and should invest the relatively modest sums required to reverse this position.

The full text of the Scottish Government’s letter is available here: 20120824 – SG response to CFALP.

Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association endorses Campaign for Fair Access to the Legal Profession

The Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association (SYLA) yesterday issued a press release strongly supporting the Campaign for Fair Access to the Legal Profession.

SYLA’s statement agrees with CFALP that:

Allowing Diploma/ PEAT1 students access to loan funding for living and maintenance costs would be a simple and obvious first step.

SYLA also discuss the need for longer term reform of the route to qualification as a lawyer, emphasising that the profession shares with the Scottish Government the responsibility of ensuring that the legal profession is open to bright students from less advantaged backgrounds.

SYLA’s full statement is reproduced below:

The Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association (SYLA) fully supports the aims and efforts of the Campaign for Fair Access to the Legal Profession (CFALP) and welcomes the forthcoming debate at the Scottish Parliament on 20 September 2012 on the issue of fair access to the legal profession.

The new support scheme for students on the Diploma in Legal Practice (DPLP)/PEAT1 caps loans at £3,400 for all applicants. This is considerably short of the current average of £6,000 diploma fees and there is no funding in place for living costs. This leaves diploma students having to self-fund, rely on family assistance or turn to a bank for a loan to cover the remaining fees and all living costs. In spite of the fact that the Scottish Government itself is of the view that a student requires a minimum income of £7,250, calls to extend student loans for living costs to diploma students have been rebuffed.

The issues surrounding funding for the diploma and its ramifications for young lawyers have been of longstanding concern for the SYLA. When the changes to funding of the Diploma were announced in November, there was justified criticism from the SYLA and the profession at large over the lack of consultation in advance of the change and the lack of detail after its announcement about how the change would be implemented. Since this time the SYLA has engaged in a number of discussions with other bodies about how the current discrepancies between the route to qualification in Law and other professions, such as medicine, dentistry and architecture, can be addressed. Potential solutions to this issue may be the integration of the current undergraduate and post-graduate courses into one single 5 year degree or the availability of a short, but intensive, PEAT1 course as is available from some LPC providers in England and Wales.

While an undergraduate academic degree followed by a mandatory postgraduate professional diploma (PEAT1) remains the route that the vast majority will follow into the Law, the Scottish Government and the profession at large has a responsibility to ensure that bright students from less advantaged backgrounds are not deterred from embarking upon a legal career for purely financial reasons. Allowing Diploma/PEAT1 students access to loan funding for living and maintenance costs would be a  simple and obvious first step. Further discussion on how best to achieve excellence in an efficient and effective Scottish legal education system is a crucial debate that government, the legal profession, universities and schools should engage in further going forward.

There needs to be fair access to the profession for all, regardless of financial background. It is in the interests of Scottish society at large to have a representative legal profession. This can not be the case if qualification as a solicitor is reserved for those of privilege.

‘UK’s best student support package’: but no help for less well-off DPLP students

Michael Russell MSP

The Scottish Government recently announced what Education Secretary Michael Russell called ‘the best funding package available in the UK’.  The press release for the announcement gives more details:

On top of current benefits such as free tuition, the new package, to be introduced in 2013 includes:

  • An annual minimum income of £7,250, through a combination of bursaries and loans, for students with a family income of less than £17,000.
  • All students, irrespective of circumstances, will be eligible for a student loan of £4,500 a year – as requested by NUS Scotland who want to see more cash in student pockets.
  • Part-time students with a personal income of less than £25,000 will now receive full support for tuition fees as a proportion of the full-time fee equivalent.

Mr Russell is quoted as saying:

We know that studying at university costs money and that this can put some people off from applying. That is why I have worked with our partners, including NUS Scotland, to review our system of student support.

A minimum income of £7,250 will be available to those from the lowest income households and I expect this will benefit around 45,000 students each year….[This] will help ensure that all those with potential can go to university and achieve their goals, in turn playing a key role in improving our economy in years to come.

This announcement is very welcome. It is extremely good news for undergraduates and can only help encourage more young people, especially those from less well-off backgrounds, to be able to study at undergraduate level. It also represents a very significant financial investment by the government in student support.

But, for less well-off students hoping to enter the legal profession, the announcement is ultimately disappointing. No thought appears to have been to improving support for DPLP students so they can afford to study the course they need to qualify as lawyers. This will remain the preserve of their better-off peers.

The government has said that ‘tough choices’ must be made on priorities for student support. But it will be galling for less well-off law graduates that the ‘tough choices’ that have been made include the announcement that:

All students, irrespective of circumstances, will be eligible for a student loan of £4,500 a year – as requested by NUS Scotland who want to see more cash in student pockets.

So, even the richest undergraduate students will benefit significantly: their minimum loan increases from less than £1,000 to well over £4,000. The government has also chosen to improve support for those training for other professions. Vet students will automatically benefit from improvements to the undergraduate package, as will postgraduate architecture students and trainee teachers (as discussed here). Medical and dental students are also considered:

medical and dental students will benefit from the main undergraduate support arrangements for the duration of their study – usually a five year programme that previously involved less generous support arrangements in the fifth year.

Mr Russell’s announcement was made at the University of Glasgow’s REACH programme, a widening participation initiative that works with schools who have historically sent proportionately low numbers of pupils into university. It works with secondary school pupils to raise awareness, encourage, supports and prepare those with the potential to study Dentistry, Law, Medicine and Veterinary Science through their application process.

Those REACH students aspiring to become dentists, doctors and vets can rightly celebrate the improved support announced by Mr Russell. And it may encourage and enable more REACH students to study law as undergraduates. But for those who aspire to turn their law degree into a career in law, the announcement does nothing to remove the financial hurdles in their way. And it does nothing to promote the important task of creating a more diverse and representative legal profession, legal system and judiciary.

Fair access ‘an important issue for all interested in social and legal justice in Scotland’

This year’s special student edition of the Scottish Legal Action Group’s monthly journal comments was published today.  This edition is free and available for download as a PDF.

The journal includes two items of direct relevance to the CFALP campaign.  The first is an article by Tim Haddow, a CFALP steering group member, discussing the need for change to ensure law graduates can compete equally for entry to the legal profession regardless of background (p212 of the paper edition / PDF).

The second is a strongly worded editorial endorsing our argument that fair access to the profession matters to wider society as it is the basis for creating a fairer legal system.  In the piece, Andrew Wilson, editor of the SCOLAG Legal Journal says:

Our legal profession is an integral part of our systems of civil and criminal justice. Indeed, in every day practice, in being the source of advice and representation for fellow citizens and in providing the ranks from which our judiciary is drawn, to a great extent the profession is our legal system.

Questions can and must always be asked as to whether our legal profession is fair and inclusive in respect of the established discrimination sensitive characteristics of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation and age. Yet the profession cannot be said to be accessible at all if socio-economic
status is a deciding factor or bar to entry. Unless that is, one is borrowing a phrase from Sir James Mathew LJ, and asserting that the legal profession in Scotland is open to all – like the Ritz hotel!

In introducing Tim Haddow’s article, the editorial states:

[T]he article highlights and an important issue not just for students and the legal profession but for all interested in social and legal justice in Scotland.

For far too long the issue of proper and fair funding for professional legal education has not been dealt with satisfactorily. Universities, government and the professional bodies all have a particular stake in professional legal education yet with none being in or accepting control of the matter. Yet the issue is too important to continue to go unaddressed and unresolved.

CFALP supporters are encouraged to follow the link to the SCOLAG website and download the journal to read the full article and editorial.

About SCOLAG

The purpose of the Group is to promote equal access to justice in Scotland, explain and improve
the law and legal services. The Group seeks to improve and advance Scots law for the benefit of
those members of society who are economically, socially, or otherwise disadvantaged.

For more information, see www.scolag.org.  SCOLAG are also very keen to welcome interested law students and graduate to their AGM on the evening of 26 September at the Mackenzie Building in Edinburgh.

Scottish Parliament to debate fair access to the legal profession

From Scottish Parliament website. SPCB Open Licence.

A members’ motion on fair access to the legal profession will be debated by the Scottish Parliament at 12.30pm on Thursday 20 September. The motion was lodged by Sarah Boyack MSP and has already attracted the support of 25 MSPs from all parties. The full text of the motion is reproduced below.

Update: 6 Sep – Now up to 26 supporters!  You can check out the motion online and see who’s added their support on the Scottish Parliament website.

Our thanks to those MSPs who’ve supported the motion so far!

Do you want to be there?

We had a  limited number of advance tickets available for the debate.  There are all now allocated.  However, from 7 days before, you can book tickets via the Scottish Parliament website (link here, select ‘members’ business’ session).

  Please consider if you can come along and support us – as well as meet fellow students supporting the campaign (we’re assembling at 11.45am to get through security in good time).

Can you help us lobby MSPs?

Nearly 60 people have so far signed up to help lobby MSPs by writing to their local MSPs. If you want to join them, please sign-up via http://urlin.it/344b3.

Fair Access to the Legal Profession

Motion S4M-03569: Sarah Boyack, Lothian, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 02/07/2012

That the Parliament considers that the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice is an essential requirement for students embarking on a career in the legal field; is concerned that there is an access issue for students on low incomes due to the lack of loans to cover maintenance costs; understands that this restricts all applicants studying for the diploma, irrespective of financial vulnerability and need; understands that the Postgraduate Tuition Fee Loan, to be introduced for 2012-13, covers the cost of tuition for up to a maximum of only £3,400, despite course fees being considerably higher; considers the Professional and Career Development Loan to be an unsuitable alternative source of funding for many low-income students due to interest levels and restrictive repayment conditions, and believes that these measures limit the career path for many students in Lothian and across the rest of the country and do not widen access to the legal profession.

Supported by: Jenny Marra, Iain Gray, Patricia Ferguson, Anne McTaggart, James Kelly, Rhoda Grant, Neil Findlay, Mary Fee, Jackie Baillie, Drew Smith, Richard Simpson, Margaret McDougall, Tavish Scott, Margaret McCulloch, Patrick Harvie, John Park, Elaine Smith, Graeme Pearson, John Pentland, Alison Johnstone, Mark Griffin, Elaine Murray, Mike MacKenzie, Liam McArthur.

Scotsman: Funding fears fuel wider examination of law courses

Today’s Scotsman legal section’s lead article discusses the  issues around the route to qualification as a lawyer and features the CFALP campaign.  The article includes quotes from Tim Haddow, a member of the CFALP steering group.

Describing the CFALP campaign, the article says:

As this new academic year comes round the discontent level among graduates considering enrolling on the DPLP courses appears significantly angrier and more organised than on previous occasions.

It may not quite be the Arab Spring but social media such as Twitter, Facebook and blogging sites have allowed a common front to develop in a way that was not possible for earlier generations when the chances were slim of the student leaders within Scotland’s law schools making regular productive contact with one another.

The article does include a minor technical inaccuracy (confusion of the PCDL and PTFL funding schemes – unless corrected in the online version) but gives a good overall view of some of the issues.  Please read the full article here on the Scotsman.com website.