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Barriers face the less privileged, "fair access" study claims

7 May 2013

Government student support is failing to help those from less privileged backgrounds studying to become lawyers, according to a new survey by the Campaign for Fair Access to the Legal Profession (CFALP).

The student-run campaigning body is seeking a change in the Scottish Government policy of capping student loans for those taking the compulsory Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at £3,400, around half the course fees, which means, it says, that students effectively need private means to undertake the Diploma. In a new study it claims that social background statistics relating to Diploma students compared with those on the undergraduate LLB course bear this out.

Comparing postcodes of LLB and Diploma students against the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, which places addresses in one of five bands ranging from most deprived to least deprived, CFALP say that 79% of Diploma students at Edinburgh University who responded to its survey were from the richest 40% of the country, and only 7.5% from the poorest 40%.

In comparison, the equivalent figures for those starting law degrees in Scotland are 57% and 27%. (Edinburgh LLB figures, at 69% and 14%, show a heavier weighting, towards more privileged backgrounds, but still a smaller difference than for Diploma students.) "This demonstrates", CFALP says, "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."

It adds that 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", CFALP states. As Edinburgh takes in Diploma students who have studied the LLB at universities not offering the Diploma, and who have a higher proportion of students from less well-off backgrounds, it says there should in principle be a smaller rather than wider gap at Diploma level.

Based on a comparison of parental occupations, CFALP further believes 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 [a survey carrried out by the Law Society of Scotland], it is not possible to state this with certainty", it comments.

CFALP spokesperson Tim Haddow commented: "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."

The Scottish Government has said that no further funds are available to extend support for Diploma students.

Click here to access the full survey report.

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