With power comes responsibility. The College of Law and BPP Law School are the leading providers of vocational legal education in the United Kingdom. Between them they train the majority of students who study law at Graduate Diploma in Law level and who wish to qualify to practice law as a solicitor or barrister. Both institutions now have degree awarding powers, powers granted by the Privy Council recently.
Neither institution is subject to the Freedom of Information Act, unlike Universities. The College of Law is a registered charity and BPP Law School is part of a PLC – although they will soon, if the acquisition by Apollo goes through, be part of a successful american company.
Interestingly, in podcasts with both Nigel Savage of The College of Law and Peter Crisp, Chief Executive of BPP Law School, both CEOs have told me that they would be prepared to provide information equivalent to that available from universities under FOI requests if asked.
Well… I have asked. I have asked both The College of Law and BPP Law School if they are prepared to publish the assessors’s reports on their institution which were provided to the Privy Council by the QAA; reports which led to The College of Law and BPP Law School being given the power to and the privilege of awarding degrees; enabling them to compete with universities in the provision of law and, in fact, any other degrees they wish to provide a course for.
Are the College of Law and BPP prepared to publish?
Nigel Savage, Chief Executive of The College of Law, is quite happy to publish the assessor’s report and has suggested that he will ask the QAA to publish it on their website to ensure complete transparency.
Peter Crisp, CEO of BPP Law School, is NOT prepared to publish the assessor’s report on BPP. I wrote to Peter Crisp inviting him to publish and provided him with the QAA statement on publication of these reports which is, in fact, on the QAA website. I quote it in full: (I have highlighted the important words…”The organisation may grant access to this report before this time”)
Policy on the disclosure of records relating to applications for degree awarding powers and university title
Peter Crisp intimated to me in a phone call a few weeks ago that the assessor’s report was confidential but when I pointed to the QAA disclosure policy above (which is why I have quoted it in full) he wrote back to me to say that he would refer the matter to the BPP board.
I received a reply from Peter Crisp on 6th July 2009
We have considered this and I’m afraid you will have to make a FOI request to the QAA for the release of the report. It was released to us as confidential information and the Board was not minded to go behind that.
The terms of our grant are of course public knowledge.
The QAA is, of course, not subject to FOI and neither is BPP Law School. It would appear to me, therefore, that either BPP has misunderstood the meaning of the QAA policy on disclosure of the assessor’s report or are choosing not to reveal the report for public scrutiny for their own reasons which, of course, they are fully entitled to do as they are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
So, what is the state of play? – a rather different approach to transparency taken by the two leading providers.
The Freedom of Information Act issue: For my part, given that both The College of Law and BPP Law School enjoy all the powers and privileges of degree awarding universities, they should be subject to the The Freedom of Information Act in exactly the same way as public sector universities – particularly now that an american company has acquired BPP Holdings PLC and, thereby, has effectively acquired the degree awarding powers of a British university.
The College of Law has demonstrated that it is prepared to be open. Thus far, BPP Law School has not. I shall write to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills headed by Lord Mandelson to see what the Department’s view on this is. When I get a reply, I shall publish it on my blog.
I have to say that I am a little puzzled as to why BPP Law School has declined to make the assessor’s report available for public inspection. BPP has a good reputation, is well resourced, provides high quality courses and cannot, possibly, have anything to hide.
It seems inequitable that public sector universities should be subject to FOI requests and not BPP. It is not exactly a level playing field.
I would be interested in your thoughts and comments on this, as always. Please feel free to comment in the comments section below.
Acquisition of BPP by Apollo
You may be interested in listening to my podcasts with Peter Crisp and Nigel Savage on the acquisition of BPP by Apollo.
UPDATE FOLLOWING LEGAL WEEK STORY
10th July 5.20 pm
Legal Week has published a report this afternoon, (they kindly linked to my blog post of yesterday) reporting that Peter Crisp CEO of BPP has repeated his unwillingness to disclose the report. I quote from the Legal Week report
“The QAA report is marked ‘confidential: not for publication or disclosure’ and we’re not going behind that. In any case, the terms of our grant are public knowledge.”
Let me repeat the QAA policy on the disclosure of the assessor’s report which led to BPP being granted degree awarding powers because Peter Crisp seems to be relying on the fact that the document was marked confidential and not for disclosure as a reason for not disclosing – which, palpably, is not the case.
”The organisation may grant access to this report before this time”
QAA disclosure policy
I always check my position as carefully as I can, so before publishing yesterday I wrote to the Chief Executive of the QAA, Peter Williams, to check that I had interpreted the QAA disclosure policy correctly and that BPP was entitled to disclose the report if they wished to. I received an email from Peter Williams to confirm that I had interpreted the policy correctly. I also spoke to a senior person at the Department for Business, Skills and Innovation.
BPP is fully entitled to refuse to disclose the report if they wish to and cannot be compelled to disclose because BPP Law School is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. I would not wish prospective students when considering which institution to attend for the GDL, LPC BVC or indeed, a law degree, to be under the misapprehension that that the reason BPP cannot disclose is because the document is marked confidential and not for disclosure. Peter Crisp will have to justify refusal to disclose on other grounds. The QAA policy would appear to permit redaction of commercially sensitive information.
I feel strongly that BPP Law School and The College of Law should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act given that they both enjoy the same rights as publicly funded universities to award degrees. Public sector universities are subject to the FOI.
Perhaps the law should be changed to bring The College of Law and BPP within the Freedom of Information law? The College of Law would appear to have no difficulty with this proposition because they have stated that they are more than happy to disclose the assessor’s report on them which led to their being granted degree awarding powers.
Alex Aldridge, Editor of the Legal Week Student section reports:
However, College of Law CEO Nigel Savage suggested that it is important for prospective students to be able to see the report:
“Currently students have little information to go on to distinguish legal education providers. So the opportunity to see an independent review would clearly be beneficial to them.”
I think that maybe BPP has missed an opportunity here – but that is their right.