The Bar Standards Board report on BPP Law School oversubscription on the BVC

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!

28 thoughts on “The Bar Standards Board report on BPP Law School oversubscription on the BVC

  1. While making no comment on BPP’s inadverent mistake, I can’t help but notice that a called barrister making inadvertent mistakes will be fined – and am reminded of the BPP Ethics tutor’s situation.

    I am sure the situation is the same with the SRA – and it just strikes me as a bit of an anomoly. that is all.

    But thank you for reporting on this. You, more than anyone else, knows the drill.

  2. That’s 2.34 offers per accredited place, is that a usual ratio?

    When I studied at BPP some years ago one of the things that impressed me about them was the administration which was very efficient. I certainly enjoyed my time there, even if my career didn’t work out, given my disabilities I was probably being unrealistic.

  3. Let us hope that the senior management have the self respect to accept the blame that is properly theirs, and not delegate it to some poor overworked and under-resourced admin underling in Leeds, or wherever.

    You need the unpublished stats to be able to work the numbers but given the very refined marketplace, I would struggle to go with a figure of any more than 1.5 offers per place as being justifiable.

  4. ‘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?’

    i was drinking tea when i read this. you owe me for a new keyboard. and don’t palm me off with your old one cos we know that has tea in it as well!

    i studied there last year and thought the admin was dreadful btw. teaching was up and down too and PROFIT was king.

  5. I worry that while the rules are arguably there to protect students, the mode of the remedy may be adverse to them. Reducing rolls by chucking out the students who’ve paid late? It’s not the students’ fault BPP has skirted the rules. They’ve reasonably relied on having places at the school. To now so blithely cause them to lose those spots seems a huge injustice — and completely counter to the spirit of the rules in the first place.

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  7. The library gets absolutely RANSACKED during essay/coursework periods – libraries fill with people, noise, and stockpiled books under coats, and entire shelves are left bare. Meanwhile BPP refuses to stagger coursework deadlines across the full-time GDL cohort, swells group sizes, and can’t even provide room to sit during its Con & Ad catchup seminars! To say nothing of ignoring requests for new books for the library…

    What share of the vast profits made from the oversubscription are going to be used to compensate those that actually suffer from these policies – current students and rejected students?
    Could current students please get the books they need, at the very least?

  8. Where to begin. BPP is highly thought of however this year students have complained about poor teaching standards and massive inconsistencies between tutors advice and teaching added to this the admin is a nightmare. I had occasion to visit BPP to offer a yearly bursary of £15K besides them keeping me and a business associate waiting for 35min. without explanation or apology, no meeting room had been booked the people we saw were ill prepared and to date they have not furnished us with the information we require to proceed. Is this because of Apollo? I do not think Apollo caused the problem but the arrogance oozing from BPP at the moment leads me to believe it may be a consequence of the buy out. I also understand that BPP had to pay to the BSB £1000 for every oversubscribed student (I may be wrong on this but I think not) Having said this does the BSB not think it would be quite a good idea to look into Chambers in London who out of the to 95 students awarded pupillage only 10 were not Oxbridge students. I would think the BSB has an equally contentious problem here although the BSB is fearful of barristers as they may just bite back.

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  10. As you say, CharonQC, over £700,000 to the bottom line. Given the Milburn Commission on social exclusion to the professions, BPP could use some of that to fund scholarships and bursaries. Being private ought to give them more incentive not less. This is how private universities in the US operate.

    Keep up the good work here.

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