Route to Qualification: Comparison with Accountancy

Discussion of the route to qualification often leads to comparison with other professions.  In particular, accountancy is a broadly similar professional services profession where further qualifications and training beyond an undergraduate degree is required for entry to the profession.

Michael ThomsonIn this guest post, Michael Thomson discusses the options available for those seeking to qualify as an accountant.  Until recently, Michael was practice manager and a tutor at the Strathclyde University Centre for Professional Legal Practice and solicitor/director at EK Business Law.  He also teaches business and law to accountancy students on the ACCA and CIMA professional accountancy courses.  Michael’s website is here.  He tweets as @ekbusinesslaw.

When I look at the routes to qualify as an accountant I feel a little bit jealous of what this profession has to offer in comparison to the solicitor profession.   For a start the accountancy profession has a number of regulatory and professional bodies, each with their own pathway to qualification.  The choice of pathway is likely to depend on whether someone is interested in working in the public or private sector, in-house or within the wider business community, or as a management or financial accountant.

There are no particular entry requirements in order to set out on the route to qualification as an accountant.  It is possible to start straight from school, or anytime thereafter.  If someone has completed an accountancy, finance or business related undergraduate degree, it is possible to obtain some exemptions from entry level modules.  Accountancy professional bodies have around 16 examinable modules in their qualification programmes.  The modules can be studied as independent self-study, or supported online, distance learning, or classroom based depending on the service provider you choose and the needs of the individual.  Module tuition and revision can be purchased from a variety of providers, and candidates are certainly not tied to a University as they are with legal education and training.

The total cost of purchasing the tuition modules and revision classes is likely to cost in the region of £18,000.  However, many employers pay for modules, associated revision programmes, and exams for their staff as part of their ongoing professional and staff development.  It is also possible to share this cost with staff, or for the individual to self-fund.  Usually people opt to take 2 modules in each diet, and there are 2 diets each year.  This is just about manageable, but definitely not easy, when working full-time.

If a candidate passes 4 modules each year they could qualify in 4 years.  It is possible to take a maximum of 8 modules each year and qualify quicker, however this would be very difficult if studying alongside full-time employment.  Modular based learning has the benefit of being at the individual’s own pace.  This means it would also be an option to limit modules to 1 each diet, or to take a break from studying and not take any at all.

In order to become fully qualified, accountants also need to complete 3 years of work experience.  The difference between this and a legal traineeship is accountancy work experience can be gained before, during and/or after the required modular based training, with a variety of employers, and with breaks in employment.  In the vast majority of cases people work as an accountant in an accountancy practice while studying.  Accountants therefore get the opportunity to earn, learn, and gain the necessary practical experience as a package.

The route to qualification as a solicitor lacks the flexibility and choice that is available in the route to qualification as an accountant.  I hope this is a situation that will change.

Michael Thomson

Advertisements

CFALP Publishes Social Diversity Analysis of DPLP Students

A recent survey of students on the DPLP confirms that, despite recent changes, student support is failing help those from less privileged backgrounds studying to enter the legal profession, meaning those entering the profession are overwhelmingly drawn from Scotland’s richest families.

Key Facts:

  • 79% of students responding to a survey of those taking the DPLP at Edinburgh University were from the richest 40% of the country; only 7.5% from the poorest 40%.

  • In comparison, the equivalent figures for those starting law degrees in Scotland are 57% and 27%. This demonstrates that the DPLP funding gap is cutting off access to the compulsory fifth year of study, and therefore the legal profession, for many law students from less privileged backgrounds.
  • Even with wider availability of the limited student support package, 92% of respondents in the Edinburgh University DPLP student survey were still primarily or substantially reliant on family support or personal savings to fund their studies. This clearly highlights the hurdle faced by those to whom this support is not available.

The survey of DPLP students confirms that those studying to enter the legal profession are overwhelmingly drawn from Scotland’s wealthiest families. There is also a clear drop-off in participation by less privileged students between study of law at undergraduate level and the DPLP. This evidence backs up campaigners’ claims that the funding arrangements create a financial barrier cutting off access to the legal profession for many of those from less privileged backgrounds.

Tim Haddow, of the Campaign for Fair Access to the Legal Profession, said:

When the diploma was introduced as a compulsory part of the route to qualification, the fees were covered by a grant and there was a means-tested maintenance grant to assist those from less well-off backgrounds. Today, there is no assistance at all with living costs, even for the poorest students, whilst a student loan towards fees is capped at £3,400 – around half the actual cost.

The Scottish Government rightly prides itself on its record of access to undergraduate education where it promises that students should not pay fees and provides over £7,000 a year in maintenance loans to assist students from the poorest backgrounds. This support is extended to all five years of study for those entering other professions, including medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, engineering, architecture and teaching. But this contrasts starkly with the arrangements for support to diploma students. So it is hardly surprising that aspiring lawyers whose parents or family do not have the money to help them bridge the £10,000 funding gap find they have little hope of converting a law degree to a legal career.

Detailed Results

The results and analysis of the three topics covered in the survey are reproduced below. A PDF copy of the report is available for download here: 20130404 – CFALP Survey of UoE DPLP Students – Final.

Topic 1 – Social Profile: DPLP Students and LLB Students

The Question

DPLP students were asked the postcode of their home address1 prior to starting their undergraduate law degree. This was used to allocate each student to their respective quintile on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD).2 These figures were then compared to the equivalent figures for those commencing their LLB in 2010/11.3

Summary of Results

SIMD

Quintile

Proportion of students from each SIMD Quintile

Survey Results

Comparison with LLB students

DPLP (UoE)

LLB (Scotland)

LLB (UoE)

5th (Least deprived 20%)

43.8%

34.4%

44.4%

4th (Least deprived 20-40%)

35.0%

22.5%

25.0%

3rd (Least deprived 40-60%)

13.8%

18.2%

16.7%

2nd (Most deprived 20-40%)

5.0%

14.5%

11.1%

1st (Most deprived 20%)

2.5%

10.4%

2.8%

 Discussion

79% of the DPLP students surveyed were drawn from the 40% least deprived in Scottish society, as measured by the SIMD index. This is more than ten times the proportion (7.5%) from the 40% most deprived.4 Those from more deprived backgrounds are under-represented at undergraduate level (making up only 25% of those commencing the LLB, rather than around 40% if participation rates were equal) but the drop-off between 25% and 7.5% starkly demonstrates that most of those from more deprived backgrounds who commence the LLB do not progress to the DPLP. Without a DPLP they cannot move from studying law to entering the legal profession.

It may be argued that those from more deprived backgrounds are less well represented on the University of Edinburgh’s (UoE) LLB, so this increased exclusivity may be reflected in the DPLP at the same institution. But participation rates for those from more deprived backgrounds still drop by almost half between the rates on the UoE LLB (14%) and the DPLP (7.5%). The figures should be going the other way as the UoE is one of only 6 institutions providing a DPLP (teaching around 25% of DPLP students), compared to 10 providing the LLB (teaching 12.5% of LLB students). All 4 of the LLB universities not providing DPLPs have higher participation rates for those from more deprived backgrounds than UoE, so students from these institutions moving to DPLP study at UoE should, in principle, improve the UoE participation rates at DPLP level.

A further argument is that the UoE DPLP fees are towards the higher end of the range of fees charged by institutions5. In fact, UoE is the only of the DPLP providers to offer a formal bursary scheme for its DPLP students. Over 30 students received support. This made the UoE DPLP in 2012/13 one of the most accessible courses as far as fees are concerned.

Topic 2 – DPLP Students: Sources of Funding

 The Question

DPLP students were asked to indicate which funding sources had made a significant contribution to their fees and living costs for the year of DPLP study. Those who indicated a Postgraduate Tuition Fee Loan (PFTL) contributed to their costs were asked whether the PTFL had been critical to their ability to undertake the course or whether it had merely been helpful but they would have found a way to fund the course were it not to have been available.

Summary of Results

Funding Source

% students

Family / Parental Support

Family / Parental OR Personal Savings

82%

92%

Postgraduate Tuition Fee Loan

PTFL critical

PTFL critical (no family / parent / personal savings)

PTFL helpful but not critical

50%

33%

2%

18%

Personal Savings

39%

Part Time Work

30%

Future Employing Law Firm

25%

Commercial Lending

6%

Discussion

DPLP students are faced with a funding shortfall of over £10,000 for the year of study.6

The survey revealed that an overwhelmingly majority of DPLP students receive a substantial contribution towards their costs from parents or family. When combined with those making a substantial contribution from personal saving, likely to be mostly mature students with savings from a previous career, this rose to 92% of students. This highlights the financial barrier facing those without families able to afford to make significant contributions to the cost of study.

The statistics also demonstrate the lack of effectiveness of the PTFL. It does help some students (33% of all students indicating they could not have taken the course without it) but the vast majority of these were still also reliant on significant contributions from family, parents or personal savings. Only 2% of students were enabled to study the course by the PTFL despite lacking a significant contribution from family or personal savings. In contrast, 68% of students did not need a contribution from the PTFL to undertake the course (including 1 in 3 of those actually taking the PTFL).

This clearly demonstrates that the £3,400 cap on assistance prevents a significant proportion of graduates undertaking the DPLP as they cannot bridge the funding gap.

Topic 3 – DPLP Students: Comparison of Social Profile with the Legal Profession

The Question

DPLP students were asked to classify the occupations of their Father and Mother (at the time of commencing their undergraduate law degree) into one of seven categories. These categories were chosen to align with the categories used in a 2006 survey of the legal profession and the figures in the survey compared with the detailed 2006 results as tabulated in a later (2010) comparative report.7 To provide a crude estimate of social profile, the categories of occupation were divided into those traditionally seen as ‘white collar’ and ‘blue collar’ roles.8

DPLP students were also asked about their educational route to the DPLP. Students can achieve the necessary academic qualification either through an undergraduate law degree (LLB) or the Law Society of Scotland Examinations.

Summary of Results

Father’s Occuption

Proportion of respondents

Survey Results

2006 Survey of Legal Professionals

DPLP (UoE)

Aged up to 35

Aged 36 – 45

White Collar’

77.3%

75.7%

74.2%

Blue Collar’

22.7%

24.2%

25.8%

Educational Route

Proportion of respondents

Survey Results

2006 Survey of Legal Professionals

DPLP (UoE)

Aged up to 35

Aged 36 – 45

LLB

99%

93%

81%

LSS Exams

1%

7%

19%

Discussion

The results indicate that the social profile of the profession is not improving. The figures tend to suggest the profession is becoming more exclusive but, given the small changes seen, the relatively small numbers surveyed by the DPLP survey and the roundings employed in the presentation of the 2006 data, it is not possible to state this with certainty.

In contrast, the route to qualification is clearly becoming almost exclusively through an undergraduate law degree. The decline in those taking the Law Society of Scotland examinations may be due in part to the increased availability of part-time undergraduate law degrees. It may also reflect the fact that, over recent years, a significant social and political premium has been placed on encouraging all those with the aptitude to take up a place at University. This may have the effect of reducing the numbers of those deciding not to go to University but rather to learn their profession through entering legal employment straight from school.

1Responses which declined to state a full postcode or where the postcode was not in Scotland were disregarded.

2For more information on SIMD, see http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Statistics/SIMD. Each SIMD datazone has an approximately equal population so, if representation was equal across the deprivation levels, 20% of students would come from each quintile and 40% each from the 40% most and least deprived areas.

3Sourced from NUS Scotland by FOI request to the Scottish Funding Council.

4If participation was equal across the social spectrum, 20% of LLB and DPLP students would be drawn from each SIMD quintile.

5For 2013/14, fees and compulsory material costs vary between £5,995 and £6,995, dependent on institution.

6A median cost for fees and materials is £6,500. Living costs will depend on individual circumstances but the Scottish Government’s ‘minimum income guarantee’ for students, used to set the maximum loan for undergraduate living cost loans provides a conservative estimate. It is £7,250 for a year of study. Deducting the maximum PTFL of £3,400 leaves students with a funding shortfall of £10,350.

7The 2006 and 2010 reports are available at https://www.lawscot.org.uk/about-us/equality–diversity/the-society/published-research. The 2010 report used different occupational categories and it was decided to use the 2006 categories as the comparator.

8The categories of ‘Professional’, ‘Executive’, ‘Management’ and ‘Legal’ were taken to be ‘white collar’. The categories ‘Skilled’ and ‘Unskilled’ were taken as ‘blue collar’. Those categorised as ‘Unemployed’ (2% or less in any measure) or ‘Parent or Full-Time Carer’ were disregarded. Only Father’s occupation was considered. It will immediately be apparent that this process is crude and relies to a certain extent on social stereotyping.

Government stats show new loans ‘doing little to widen access’ to DPLP

Figures obtained by CFALP show that, in contrast to the Scottish Government’s prediction that ‘approximately 400’ additional law students would benefit from the increased availability of loans under the newly introduced Postgraduate Tuition Fee Loans (PTFL), only an additional 20 students received loans. 

In August last year, CFALP wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Education asking him to reconsider his decision not to extend student maintenance loans to DPLP students. His response was that ‘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’. He also explained that, under the new Postgraduate Tuition Fee Loan (PTFL) system ‘around 5,000 full and part-time’ could benefit from assistance towards fees. His colleague, Dr Allen, stated in Parliament on 20 September 2012 that ‘approximately 700’ law students would be included in these figures, a predicted increase of 400 on those who benefited under the previous Postgraduate Student Award Scheme (PSAS) grant towards fees.

However, figures obtained by CFALP have shown that only an additional 20 students benefited from PTFL compared to the 300 grants available under the previous PSAS scheme. This pattern appears to be repeated across other non-DPLP courses funded by PTFL with only a total of just over 1500 PTFLs taken up, according to Scottish Government statistics, compared to the 2,700 grants under PSAS. This is in contrast to the predicted increase to 5,000.

Taken with the recent evidence on the lack of socio-economic diversity amongst DPLP students, this evidence confirms the PTFL has made little or no impact on widening access to the DPLP (or, it would seem, to postgraduate education as a whole). It is simply too low in value to make a meaningful difference to those who most need assistance to meet the costs of studying.

On a positive note, the low uptake of the PTFL across all courses suggests that the postgraduate loan budget may be underspent, possibly by more than £10m (This figure is obtained by comparing the total loans for the 1510 loans actually taken compared to the 5,000 predicted). This suggests that a fairer and more progressive support model could be achieved within the existing resources.

Full response

The full response received by CFALP from the Scottish Government’s Education and Learning Directorate is reproduced below. This followed an enquiry regarding the actual take-up of PTFLs by DPLP and other students in 2012/13, the first year of operation of the new system. The total row in Table 1 (in blue) is added for clarity.

Further to your FOI requesting the number of students awarded, and the total value of, Postgraduate Tuition Fee Loans awarded to students, in academic year 2012/13, commencing:

  • The Diploma in Professional Legal Practice – in total and broken down by institution

  • All other courses eligible for Postgraduate Tuition Fee Loan – in total

  • I wrote to you on 11 March 2013 advising you that this information was not available. You telephoned and asked what options were available to you and I outlined these on 18 March, you then requested the figures based on the early 2012-13 dataset which was published in last year’s release (correct at October last year).

 Please refer to Table 1 for the information relating to students on Diploma in Legal Practice courses.

 Number of students on Diploma in Legal Practice courses funded through PSAS by institution, 2012-13

Institution

Number of students

Total amount claimed (£’s)

ABERDEEN UNIVERSITY

15

54,400

DUNDEE UNIVERSITY

35

115,600

GLASGOW UNIVERSITY

90

302,600

STRATHCLYDE UNIVERSITY

90

289,100

ROBERT GORDON UNIVERSITY

10

27,200

EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY

80

261,800

Total

320

1,050,700

Note: Student numbers in this table have been rounded up or down to the nearest 5 (e.g. 1, 2 round to 0; 3, 4 round to 5).

 The total number of PSAS students who are not on Diploma in Legal Practice courses in 2012-13 session is 1,190 and they claimed a total of £3,684,542 through the PSAS fee loan scheme. Note that these figures refer to amounts claimed and not entitlement, which may be higher in some cases.

Please note that all statistics quoted in this response are based on an early analysis of 2012-13 session applications, which is published in the statistics publication “Higher Education Student Support in Scotland, 2011-12”, available here: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2012/10/1895/20.

As the response notes, the number of PTFL applications is correct as of 24 October 2012. In theory, applications for the PTFL remained open until 31 March 2013. However, the Universities generally require fees to be paid (including any PFTL contribution) at or before matriculation. As the 2012/13 DPLP courses start in September 2012, it is unlikely that there will be any further applications received after these statistics are provided. Table 7 at the Scottish Government statistics publication referred to above demonstrates that the October figures for all student support for 2012/13 is in line with the expectations from previous figures, providing further evidence of this.

The PTFL, a loan towards fees of £3,400, replaced the Postgraduate Student Award Scheme (PSAS) which provided a grant of the same amount to up to 300 DPLP students. The cost to the Scottish Government of a loan is around one-third the value of the loan, whilst the PSAS grants were funded directly from the Scottish Government budget. The transition to the PTFL and the low uptake of additional funded places together represented a saving to the Scottish Government of nearly £700,000, around two-thirds of the 2011/12 spend on support to DPLP students.

Law Society Council Orders New Study of Barriers to Profession

LSS logoFollowing last month’s presentation to the Council of the Law Society of Scotland of the joint paper on Fair Access to the Legal Profession, the Council have launched a new study into the barriers facing aspiring solicitors. This follows consideration of the joint paper by the Society’s Education and Training Committee, whose responses were considered by the full Council at their meeting on Friday 26 April.

The full recommendations (from the joint paper) and responses approved by Council are detailed below:

CFALP/SYLA/TANQ Recommendation 1: 

To adopt a clear policy aim that the route to qualification should not be dependent on an individual’s ability to fund their professional education and training.

Law Society of Scotland Council Response:

That a principle along the following lines be adopted: “The Council of the Law Society of Scotland acknowledges the importance of fair access to the solicitor’s profession.  In acknowledging this principle, the Society will commit to embedding considerations of fair access to the profession in all long-term strategic planning and all relevant decision making.”

CFALP/SYLA/TANQ Recommendation 2: 

To establish a review with a remit to identify, investigate and evaluate options for reform of the route to qualification capable of delivering this policy whilst meeting the needs of the profession and legal employers; and to report back to Council with recommendations within a defined timescale.

Law Society of Scotland Council Response:

That a “stress test” review which incorporates a review of the financing of the DPLP should be carried out with specifics of the review being considered at the May Education and Training Committee meeting, reporting to the May Council meeting, to allow sufficient time to be devoted to the scoping of such an exercise.  It is hoped that any such project would be complete by November 2013.

CFALP/SYLA/TANQ Recommendation 3: 

To continue to lobby the Scottish Government to extend means-tested student maintenance loans to students studying the DPLP as the only short-term solution to the fair access issue.

Law Society of Scotland Council Response:

That the Society should continue to lobby government for improved funding for all DPLP students.

CFALP/SYLA/TANQ Recommendation 4:

That the Society should consider how and when it might be possible to monitor the socio-economic diversity of the profession and those aspiring to enter it.

Law Society of Scotland Council Response:

That the Head of Equality and Diversity and the Registrar’s team should consider if and how socio-economic data could be collected and which socio-economic data should be collected.

Commenting on the outcome, Law Society of Scotland President, Austin Lafferty said:

austin laffertyA successful legal profession must be a diverse legal profession, made up of all people from all backgrounds.  It is an issue which the Society takes seriously and the Campaign for Fair Access is to be congratulated for ensuring it remains firmly on our agenda.

The important task is to properly understand what barriers exist, where they lie and what impact they really have.  The members of our education and training committee, supported by our staff, will look closely and thoroughly at those issues and come back with a report that will allow us to decide on the most effective way forward.  I know they plan to work closely with the Campaign for Fair Access, the Scottish Young Lawyers Association, the Trainee and Newly Qualified Society and others in terms of gathering evidence

In response, Tim Haddow, CFALP Campaign coordinator said:

CFALP Logo

We are obviously pleased that the Law Society of Scotland has broadly accepted the  recommendations we, together with the Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association and the Trainee and Newly Qualified Society, presented to Council last month. The Society’s restatement of its commitment to the principle of fair access to the legal profession is also welcome.

But, as we’ve consistently stated, the true test of the profession’s commitment to this principle will be the Society’s willingness to drive change in the route to qualification. CFALP’s position is that it is already clear that the current route to qualification is a significant barrier to fair access, an issue we’ve been highlighting now for over a year. To that extent, we are hoping that the review announced today, whose remit is to investigate barriers to the profession rather than start to formulate solutions, is only the first step and won’t delay progress towards reforms that – in our opinion – are so clearly needed.

Nonetheless, we look forward to continuing to make the case for reform with the Society over the coming months.

The Society’s press release announcing the study is here. The outcome of the meeting was also reported here in the Herald.

CFALP would welcome comment on the Law Society’s response via blog comment, our twitter feed (@CFALP1) or our Facebook page.