The Bar Standards Board has published a report on the ‘Triggered Visit’ to BPP Law School.
The report states, under ‘The Rationale for The Visit’: “The visit was held to discuss the over recruitment of students by BPP onto the full time and part time course for AY2009-10. An informal ‘fact finding’ meeting was held with members of BPP management on 11 September (right after notification) and a formal meeting, chaired by Nigel Cooper QC, was held on 29 September 2009. Notes of these meetings may be made available separately to relevant committees. The focus of discussion was on the reasons for over recruitment, how it had come about, the nature of infringement of the contract and what might be done to correct the situation – given that the students are of primary concern.”
BPP Law School prides itself as being one of the leading providers of vocational education. The School is now able to award degrees following approval from the Privy Council. With such privileges and powers comes responsibility. By oversubscribing on the Bar Vocational Course by a significant amount – the report states the accredited number and the oversubscription: “264 Full Time (318) (at time of visit) /96 Part Time (97) (at time of visit)” – BPP Law School has broken the rules.
I spoke to the Dean and CEO of BPP Law School, Peter Crisp, who told me that the over subscription was ‘inadvertent’. My response to him was that this may well be so, and suggested that he might like to focus his attention on the administration more closely so as to avoid any further inadvertent oversubscriptions in future.
The Bar Standards Board has clearly picked up on this inadvertence with a very strong Condition (Condition 1) which BPP Law School must comply with in future:
“Prior to making any offer for the courses commencing in Sept 2010, BPP must engage the services of an independent statistician or similar expert, (name and CV to be approved by the BSB) to review all available admissions data for the previous 5 years and clarify that in his/her professional opinion the number of offers that BPP wishes to make should not lead to over-recruitment. This certification is to be provided to the BSB before any offers are made, and thereafter the number of offers made by BPP shall not exceed the certified number. This procedure is to be repeated for the courses commencing in September 2011 and September 2012.”
The Bar Standards Board has no power to fine providers – which is fair enough and short of the ‘nuclear’ option of withdrawing accreditation (not merited here) there is little that can be done in terms of penalty. Given my experience in the past (I founded BPP Law School with Charlie Prior, then CEO of BPP Holdings plc) I am well aware of the inspection process. The Bar Standards Board is to be commended for what was clearly a rigorous inspection - even a cursory read of the published report reveals this – and, more importantly, for being prepared to publish their findings. The BSB plans to publish reports of all inspection visits in future, in line with The Solicitors Regulatory Authority practice in connection with the Legal Practice Course for solicitors.
BPP earned an additional £793800 for their Bar Vocational Course (318 enrolled – 264 accredited number of places x BVC fees £14700 (2009) = 793800.
This goes straight to the bottom line. I understand that BPP will have to pay the not insubstantial costs of the inspection visit and they will have incurred additional expenditure in terms of teaching costs, library and IT provision.
Only one other provider (Northumbria University) exceeded the accredited number of places. Other providers will have taken care not to exceed the accredited number of places for fear of being in breach. BPP Law School by breaking the rules, inadvertently or not, have enjoyed a bonus in terms of fee income. Peter Crisp maintains that the enrolment process in terms of offers to places is not an exact science. I would dispute this – given that when I ran BPP Law School we did not break the accredited numbers for the GDL, the LPC or the BVC. It is difficult to predict numbers but it is not impossible to do so accurately and stay..to coin a phrase from the world of politics… ‘within the rules”.
I am not surprised that the BSB has required BPP to appoint an independent statistician to review all available admissions data for the previous 5 years and clarify that in his/her professional opinion the number of offers that BPP wishes to make should not lead to over-recruitment. BPP made “620 offers… and 434 acceptances were received by BPP (in April), for 264 validated places.”
This is serious inadvertence. Students are not supposed to make ‘multiple acceptances’. Given that most students who apply for the BVC will get the grades needed to progress, BPP must have been aware that a serious oversubscription problem was heading their way. Interestingly, the Bar Standards Board report states… “During an accreditation meeting in May, there was no mention of the possibility of over-recruitment occurring; in fact, BPP reported that they were ‘working to avoid over-recruitment.’
I accept Peter Crisp’s statement that the oversubscription was inadvertent and not motivated or connected in any way with the sale of BPP Holdings PLC to Apollo last year. I have no evidence to support any other conclusion.
I take the view, not unreasonably, that BPP Law School has behaved badly on this oversubscription issue. They have demonstrated that their administration needs to be sorted out on the admissions process and, given that there appears to have been a flurry of activity to reduce numbers by bumping students off the course by seeing if any had paid their fees late
- Students who had payment problems were sent emails telling them they were not on the course (an action BPP admitted they would not have taken if they had not over-recruited) on the 1/2 September.
There were also reports that BPP were asking students to defer for a year because the Bar Standards Board required them to do so. This, I am told, was not the case. … The report makes indirect mention of this:
A problem was reported, by some students, regarding the admission process. There are two groups of students who were all, one week before the course was due to start, told they had lost their place on the course due to late payment of fees. The panel was also told that the correspondence merely cited that BPP would love to be able to help, but because of BSB policy regarding numbers, they had to lose their place on the course. It later transpired that most of them had either paid by bank transfer (the money had been floating, unidentified) or were under scholarship from an Inn, so they were subsequently told that they could remain on the course. They students found this very stressful, and felt that the situation could have been dealt with in a much better manner. They were given no warning, or request for payment, but just told they no longer had a place on the course, with no chance to offer an explanation. They have subsequently felt as if the course was organised and tutors allocated without their groups in the equation. This is a cause for concern for the BSB, since the BSB is concerned with a consistent, quality assured experience for students.”
The rest of the report deals with quality assurance and health and safety issues. BPP Law School is still a good law school. There is no doubt about that. I had a twitter message from a fellow user of Twitter to indicate that things improved at BPP following the BSB visit and I have also heard or read first hand reports from BPP students confirming that the teaching and provision was good.
BPP Law School hasn’t been caught with their hands in the cookie jar. They have, however, broken the rules. They have not got away scot-free. It is true that the costs incurred are far less than the profit they made by the oversubscription. BPP Law School has been given a fairly sharp slap on the wrists by the Bar Standards Board – the requirement to appoint an independent statistician is, in anyone’s money – a pretty scathing comment.
Perhaps the Law School’s new masters – Apollo – would like to start a scholarship fund with the additional profit to pay CASH and fee grants to prospective law students who wish to read for the Bar? That would be a fair and honourable thing to do – but will BPP do it?
They are now under the gaze of the Bar Standards Board (and an independent statistician!) and they are certainly going to be looked at, rightly, by their competitors, journalists and… of course…. me as a blogger!