RollonFriday reported the story that BPP Law School is asking students to defer taking the Bar course until next year (and providing an incentive of a £2000 reduction on the fee to do so) because they have taken on too many students. I felt that the RollonFriday story, although designed to be cutting, was pregnant with a number of unstated possibilities.
We are not dealing with airlines overbooking, or holiday companies selling more holidays than they have – we are dealing with a fairly serious and important matter of legal education and the hopes and aspirations of prospective members of the Bar. In the interests of getting the story straight I contacted BPP Law School and the Bar Standards Board.
In my emails to BPP (below) and the Bar Standards Board I took the following line:
The issue is a simple one. Did BPP exceed the number of authorised places or not?. I would be surprised if this is the case – but if it is, then it should be made clear. If you did not exceed your authorised accreditation numbers why is the BSB asking you to reduce your intake? If BPP did not exceed the number they are authorised to take the BSB is acting inconsistently with its own stated policy of not placing a cap on numbers applying.
When I telephoned Peter Crisp, CEO and Dean of BPP Law School, this morning he told me that the BPP response was in a Press Release:
“Following a marked increase in demand for this year’s Bar Vocational Course (BVC), we have been working with the Bar Standards Board (BSB) to explore the possibility of students deferring their place until 2010.
All students with places on the BVC were notified of this on Thursday 17th September, and those who would consider deferring have been invited to contact the Director of BVC Programmes to discuss.
BPP has emphasised that any decision to defer needs to be carefully thought through, and that any deferrals will be guaranteed a place on the Bar Professional Training Course (which replaces the BVC from 2010) as well as eligibility for a loyalty discount of 15% on next year’s fees.
As discussions are currently taking place, we are unable to tell how many will take up the offer at this stage.
The demand for places this year demonstrates the quality of our provision as well as our reputation and standing in the legal profession”.
The Bar Standards Board statement received following my telephone call to the BSB late this afternoon:
The BSB is committed to the highest standards of education and training. The BSB has not recommended to BPP that their students should defer for a year on the basis of the current job market. The BSB are currently in dialogue with the BPP about the number of students recruited on their BVC course this year.
BPP Law School is a leading provider of high quality vocational law courses and, most recently, has been accredited to award their own degrees by the Privy Council. This provides BPP, now owned by US education firm Apollo, with many advantages and opportunities – but with rights go responsibilities – the responsibility of complying with authorised numbers, the responsibility of ensuring that students are properly advised and taught to the very high standards they themselves set and which are set by the Bar Standards Board.
BPP Law School has developed in a very short time to deserve their place in the top tier of vocational legal education and I have no doubt the school will soon earn respect and validity for their law degree offerings. I have said this before.
I have not, as yet, had a direct answer to my very simple question: – Did BPP exceed the number of authorised places or not?
I’ll leave the question on the table and it may be answered at any time. As soon as I receive an answer from BPP I will publish their response.
In the meantime – there are only two possible constructions:
(a) BPP have broken the terms of their Bar Vocational Course validation as to maximum numbers – deliberately or inadvertently
(b) BPP have not broken the terms of their validation and they are asking students to defer for some other unspecified and non-contentious reason – but not because of the current job market, as the BSB makes clear in their statement (above). The original BSB statement issued to Legal Week and others last week made no mention of the point about the BSB not recommending to BPP that their students should defer for a year on the basis of the current job market. This has been inserted, one assumes, to counter rumours circulating to that effect in the market.
I raise a number of points which I believe, in the circumstances, are fair to raise. They may be answered very simply with a response from BPP
1. It is worth noting that all fees received over and above the maximum validated number go straight to the bottom line and it is pure profit, it being unlikely that an institution would recruit additional lecturers and take on additional space and resources to service the extra students taken on.
Institutions are validated to take a specific number of students on – based on the BSB assessment of resources, space and lecturer-student ratios available or projected at the time of the validation. This is why institutions are not permitted to exceed the validated number of places. This, when fees are at the £14800 mark, could be a very substantial profit. How many students are BPP oversubscribed by on the Bar course?
I am assuming that there may have been a fairly significant over subscription to have attracted the need to reduce the numbers. It is, I suspect, unlikely the BSB would be concerned by an overbooking of one or two students. De minimis?
2. If BPP has broken the terms of their accreditation to run the Bar course - this does not reflect well on an institution recently validated by the Privy Council to award degrees.
3. If BPP has broken the terms of their authorisation - this should be (and I assume will be) investigated and dealt with by the Bar Standards Board. The BSB is in dialogue with BPP about “the number of students recruited on their BVC course this year.” and will, one assumes, make public this dialogue, in time, given the publicity t this story has attracted on RollonFriday, Legal Week and elsewhere?
4. If BPP has not broken the terms of BVC validation and If students are happy to accept deferment until next year and take the 15% reduction in fees (£2000) next year – all well and good.
5. On the other hand, if BPP has broken the terms of their validation and are required to reduce numbers and students are required to defer – subject to a duty to mitigate loss - they will have an action for breach of contract.
6. If a student has deferred and taken BPP’s offer, it is not unreasonable to speculate on what information was provided to the student by BPP underpinning the request. If it transpires that BPP has broken the terms of the validation and did not make this clear to deferring students then contractual issues may arise in relation to the deferral agreement.
There may be no story at all here and if that is the case well and good. It is, I hope, fair to raise these issues and get the story onto the table fully – given… and I use BPP’s quote from their press release…” the quality of (their) provision as well as (their) reputation and standing in the legal profession”.
I have In the meantime left the two possible outcomes on the table. As ever, you may use the comments section to comment. If BPP responds to my emails and phonecalls earlier I will, of course, publish their response in full.
Wednesday 30th September 10.30 am
I have received an email from Peter Crisp, CEO of BPP law School:
As the BSB has stated, it has not recommended to BPP that students defer due to the current job market.
Our statement clearly says that “we have been working with the Bar Standards Board (BSB) to explore the possibility of students deferring their place until 2010”. Our discussions with the BSB have been as a result of an increase in demand for this year’s course, and are a confidential matter between the two parties. There is no question of students being “forced off the course”.
The story was (rightly or wrongly) covered in the legal trade press last week, and there is nothing further that I can add at this stage.
It is important to understand that all law schools invest heavily in providing good infrastructure and on a course like the BVC, where numbers are smaller than for the LPC in most institutions, judging the number of applicants to maximum validated numbers can be a very key issue in terms of viability. I know from personal experience that it is not easy. Some students given offers drop out and have to have fees refunded, others don’t meet the grade requirements set by the Institution and do not get a place (if applicable). It is important for all institutions offering the BVC, an expensive course to run, that they ensure viability. The BSB has confirmed that the issue is being discussed and that it is not a significant problem. The BSB also confirmed that no student will be prejudiced by being forced to defer.
Of course… it is always possible that other BVC providers have exceeded their numbers and in the interests of fairness and objectivity I am asking each of the providers. If any institution admits to having a possible over subscription I will indicate this in a postscript below.
Thus far I have had confirmations from:
Nottingham Law School, Kaplan, The College of Law, and Manchester Metropolitan confirm that they have no over-subscription issues. I have left messages with other providers – but with the beginning of term it is inevitable that the Course Leaders are involved with students/teaching so it may take time to get a full report on this out.
I have spoken to Deveral Capps, the course director for the BVC. Deveral Capps was very open with me on the telephone when he told me that Northumbria did have a minor over subscription problem and that they had dealt with it last week to the Bar Standard Board’s satisfaction last week. The over subscription is on the fullt-ime course but their part-time course is under subscribed by 44%. There are, therefore, no issues of resource, space, pressures on the lecturing team and resources can be re-deployed. The quality of provision is being maintained. Deveral Capps did make the point – and I agree with him – that over-subscription this year to the BVC has come about – because of a marked increase in students applying for the BVC before the Bar Professional Training Course kicks in next year. The BPTC is going to be a more demanding course. I recall the same increase in BVC applications arising when the Bar had deferral of call plans some years back.
University of The West of England
I have spoken to the administrator at UWE. They do not have an over subscription issue.
Cardiff University Law School
I have spoken to the Course Leader for the BVC. She confirms that while they were two oversubscribed earlier in the summer, two students have had to withdraw (for personal reasons) and they are spot on the number permitted. The course director did make the perfectly valid point that it is a difficult judgement call to get the numbers spot on because most institutions will make slightly more offers than places to ensure that if people do withdraw (and they do) they are not left in a situation where they have less than the permitted number and fall below their budget expectations.
City Law School (Formerly The Inns of Court School of Law)
I have spoken to the Course Director for the BVC – They do not have an over subscription issue.
I have now heard from all the providers – The providers were more than happy to discuss the position with me.