Craig: ‘Cost of the course may prove to be a permanent barrier’

Craig, 21, from Airdrie, is commencing his fourth year of a law degree at the University of Glasgow.  With the encouragement and support of his parents, a sales manager and a classroom assistant, he became the first member of his family to attend University, choosing law as a subject which fitted with his academic strengths and interests.

Times have not been easy, especially for his parents who have been supporting Craig and his sister at a time when their own finances have been hit by the economic downturn.  But, thanks to a student loan and what part-time work Craig has been able to obtain, he has been able to afford to remain at University:

My student loan allows me to live for the duration of the academic year…with each month generally leaving me with slightly less than the previous month; however, the summer months eat into what is left of any funds I have.

Craig’s perseverance is reaping rewards academically: he is on target for a high 2:1 or even a First Class honours degree.  But he has a problem.  To become a lawyer, he must first complete the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (DPLP).  Unlike his undergraduate degree, where he benefits from free tuition, he faces having to find around £3,000 towards course fees as the government assistance for postgraduate fees has been capped at an amount well short of the actual cost of the course.  And, although the DPLP an essential part of the educational qualifications required to be a lawyer, the Scottish Government considers it a second course of study.  He is therefore not eligible for a student loan towards his living costs, an expense which the Scottish Government itself estimates at over £7,000 for a year of study.

Craig describes his situation:

Paying for the DPLP while still being able to cover my costs of living would currently be an impossibility.  The fact that the cost of the course is currently a barrier – and may in practice prove a permanent one – is an extremely frustrating one.  While I knew about the diploma cost from the start, approaching the reality of it and seeing it affect others I know in practice has led to me feeling discouraged about the prospect of a legal career at all.

Craig’s frustration is double-edged.  Firstly, he must watch those, including those arguably less able than himself, move on to the DPLP and compete for jobs as trainee lawyers, simply because they are lucky enough to have parents able to assist with the costs of studying.  He says:

Unless I acquire a traineeship that provides diploma funding, it does not matter how well I do, how dedicated I am to the course, how tenacious I am in applying; there is a financial barrier preventing me from achieving my ambitions and potential.

Secondly, he is faced with the reality that this barrier to pursuing his chosen career is peculiar to the legal profession:

This barrier does not apply to other Scottish undergraduate situations.  Engineers, medics, vets, dentists all simply sit a five-year course.  Law students sit four years of a degree and must then pay for the privilege of having a qualification that fits its intended purpose.

Craig will be among those law students meeting politicians and members of the legal profession at ‘Fair Access to the Legal Profession: Questions of Justice and Education’ at the Scottish Parliament at 6pm on Tuesday 23 October. For further information, and to register your interest in attending, please click here.

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