The government consultation on postgraduate funding could be good news for LPC students and social mobility in the legal profession, writes Charlotte Parkinson
On 20 January 2015, Solicitors Journal published an article considering whether postgraduate funding would potentially become available for the legal practice course (LPC). The Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) had recently concluded that it was likely the funding would be available for the combined LLM-LPC. Here’s how far we’ve come in just over a year.
The government said it wanted to reverse the declining number of UK-domiciled master’s students compared to our overseas competitors, which it said was, in part, due to the difficulties of accessing funding for study. The government may not have had lawyers in mind, but the JLD thought it in the best interest of members to lobby for the inclusion of a required course that comes with an average price tag of approximately £11,600.
Following on from the Autumn Statement in November 2014, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills released a consultation paper regarding the postgraduate loan proposals. The JLD put together a consultation response, outlining its concerns over the commercial loans that current LPC students have to take out and the financial pressure this causes. A government loan to undertake the LPC would be of colossal benefit. We asked the government to consider including the LPC or, if not, to at least include the LLM-LPC.
A response paper to the consultation was released that did not specifically mention the combined LLM-LPC but did confirm the LLM would be considered a qualifying course.
Courses qualifying for funding should be full-time, at level 7, typically involving 180 credits of which 150 are at level 7, and culminate in a master’s qualification. These may be taught, research, distance learning, or professional master’s courses across all disciplines.
Therefore, provided the combined LLM-LPC falls into these criteria, students undertaking this course can benefit from a government loan to gain their LPC.
Education providers are leading the way in terms of testing and developing a new qualifying course. Obviously, this makes commercial sense for the providers, but it is also great news for future LPC students. Some institutions are already marketing their new qualifying courses.
This could be great news for social mobility, allowing more people to continue on the traditional pathway into the profession, although one potential drawback is that this could enhance the oversupply of graduates compared to training contracts as more people take up the offer. While these graduates are at least not indebted to a commercial bank loan, they may still be without a training contract.
It is encouraging to see educational providers putting policy into practice, all stemming from one paragraph in an Autumn Statement. Perhaps this is an insight into how they will take the lead when it comes to any required or recommended courses for the solicitors qualifying examination – although with the Solicitors Regulation Authority announcing it will ‘pause and rethink’ the new assessment, it will very much be a case of watching this space
Charlotte Parkinson is an executive committee member of the Junior Lawyers’ Division (JLD) of the Law Society and a paralegal at Stewarts Law
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 19 April 2016 and is reproduced by kind permission.