Costs Keep Soaring

Costs Keep Soaring

In today’s Guardian, there was an article concerning the spiralling costs of qualifying as a Barrister. Admittedly, the eye-popping figure of £127,000, that was quoted from the new Chair of the Bar Council, is based on the most circuitous route to the Bar: 1) non-law degree in London; 2) GDL in London and 3) BPTC in London, plus living expenses during that time. Apparently, a similar path followed outside of London will set students back 111,000 GBP.

Astronomical sums, but for a Bangladeshi/Commonwealth lawyer, perhaps the most noteworthy figure is that of “£19,000” for the BPTC. (At least for the BPTC, UK, EU and non-EU students are on equal footing, as they have to pay the same fees. However, UK & EU students get to pursue the course part-time while non-EU students don’t, as a result of strict immigration rules.)

To elaborate a little on this, I did a quick search through the established BPTC institutions – that I have provided links to on the left sidebar – and found that for the 2016-2017 year, the full time BPTC tuition fees are £19,070/£15,680 at BPP (London/Rest of England and Wales), £16,060 at Cardiff,  £18,000 at City Law School,  £14,480 at Manchester Metropolitan University, £13,050 at Northumbria University, £14,100 at Nottingham Trent University, £19,040/£15,480 at the University of Law (London/Rest of England and Wales)and £13,795 at UWE-Bristol.

Looking at these figures, it seems that fees have gone up by roughly 30% since I did the BPTC in 2011-2012. This means a Bangladeshi student will have to pay somewhere between 14.5 lac BDT and 21.1 lac BDT  as tuition and between 10 lac and 13 lac BDT as living expenses through the academic year (according to UK Visa & Immigration minimum requirements).

Many in England perceive the Bar to be an ‘elite’ profession, dominated by a moneyed Old Boys Network, but through Inn scholarships, institutional bursaries, pupillage top-up schemes and an increased percentage of women joining the Bar and being appointed QCs, the reality is gradually changing. (Though challenges do remain) But this shift is only happening in the UK.

For non-EU Bar aspirants, the financial barriers to entry are overwhelming. Only a privileged few can hope to study at one of the aforementioned institutions by paying full fees or benefiting from a partial fee reduction. Some might say – “So what? If they can’t afford it, they should study at their own Law Schools and get qualified there”.

The problem is, in countries like Bangladesh, the number of quality Law Schools can be counted on one hand. For a country of 162 million people, there simply aren’t enough seats to accommodate all deserving candidates. As a result, many choose alternate careers. At the same time, I believe there is a nascent demand for legal services that is not met, as there are disproportionately few lawyers compared to the size of the general population. How do we remedy this? How do we ensure a bright future for the next generation of lawyers?

Well, the ‘invisible hand’ has pointed to two options already. On the one hand we have affiliate, associate and registered centres of the University of London, BPP and Northumbria University in Bangladesh, which allows students to pursue UK LLB (Hons.) degrees at a fraction of the usual cost, without leaving their home town. However, it is widely assumed that students graduating from these programmes will eventually go on to pursue the BPTC in England. Thus, we come back to the aforementioned cost problem and its deterrent effect. Some meritorious students may try to become Advocates or in-house counsel, while others will leave the profession altogether.

On the other hand, a number of private universities have opened new law departments. While this is a positive development, as I feel that we should develop high-class, local law schools like India, but the problem is quality-management and regulatory oversight. In this case, I am not referring to academic output per se but rather to the variable standards of teaching at some of these institutions. Many law departments are understaffed, overly reliant on part-time lecturers and lack the quality controls and feedback loops needed to ensure high teaching performance.Thus, questions may arise as to the extent to which these LLB degrees are compliant with the requirements of the Advocateship examinations and the broader demands of a legal career. (See here for an example of a recent tussle between certain private university students and the UGC-Bar Council regarding the recognition of LLB degrees). Given that the tuition fees of private universities are not exactly cheap by Bangladeshi standards, students may legitimately question whether they should pursue such qualifications at all.

Till these issues are comprehensively addressed, aspiring Bangladeshi law students will have to choose between the spiralling costs of English law degrees and local law degrees that may not be recognised!  A truly precarious position to be in.

Morshed
the Hague

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New ‘Health Surcharge’ for Foreign Students in the UK

This article in the Times of India provides details of the new surcharge of 150 GBP imposed on foreign students for health services under the NHS.

An interesting statistic highlighted by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office: “International students cost the NHS around £430 million per year and over £700 per head”. I only visited the NHS once, for a routine examination, in my four years there and I can’t imagine many healthy-bodied 18-30 year olds darkening their door step. Where did the 700 GBP figure come from? Moreover, why they would impose a ‘nominal’, symbolic surcharge of 150 GBP if it doesn’t cover the purported cost of providing healthcare?

Leiden

The Overseas Student Dilemma

To be honest, I’m not a big fan of the Economist, primarily for ideological reasons. However, reading some of their articles from time to time is unavoidable – like when your father reads next to you on the couch. While he was flipping through the various columns, my eye caught one short article entitled “Overseas Student: How to ruin a global brand”. This paragraph, in particular, caught my attention, even though its contents don’t come as a surprise given the UKBA’s actions against London Metropolitan University and the restrictions on student visas:

…foreign students, whether educated in British private schools or elsewhere, are decreasingly likely to go to English universities. According to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, 307,200 overseas students began their studies in the country in 2012-13, down from 312,000 two years earlier and the first drop in 29 years. Student numbers from the rest of the EU fell—probably a result of the increase in annual tuition fees in England from £6,000 ($10,000) a year to £9,000. But arrivals from India and Pakistan declined most sharply.

(Bangladeshis would have been mentioned as well but compared to Indian and Pakistani students, the number of Bangladeshi students studying in the UK is infinitesimal. Moreover, a large number of Bangladeshi students who currently pursue Higher Education in the UK, go to study the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) and that number is not likely to decrease because of student visa restrictions or tuition fees but because of more rigorous entry standards and testing.)

I find it as no surprise that America, Australia and Canada are becoming more favored destinations for students, due to their less stringent post-study work requirements.

This is a blog dedicated mainly to students interested in pursuing the Bar and I’ve always maintained that the value of becoming a Barrister diminishes if you cannot obtain some relevant work experience after your studies. The new visa-regime, which gives students “four months to find a job paying upwards of GBP 20,600”, coupled with an ultra-competitive market for pupillages means that international students do not have a realistic chance of becoming active members of the English Bar. (This perhaps goes without saying as many worthy home students are not able to secure pupillage, much less one that awards more than GBP 20,600 per annum.) Instead, the cleverer and/or more ambitious international students are ‘widening the net’ and searching for jobs outside of their field of specialty – which ultimately may lead to talented individuals leaving the Bar and the legal profession altogether. Others, in search of education and experience, may simply go to the shores of other Commonwealth countries.

Tashkent

 

 

Unpaid work experience a bar to diversity, say young lawyers

Unpaid work experience a bar to diversity, say young lawyers

Fewer legal jobs and measly financial returns coupled with rising costs of legal education are not only causing young people to go into substantial debt but also creating spaces for exploitative conditions in the form of an increasing number of unpaid jobs/internships.

Morshed,

Tashkent

A couple of weeks ago, on eBay, a woman listed an Ede & Ravenscroft barrister’s wig and gown for sale. “Condition: used,” she wrote. In the item description, she added: “After five years’ hard slog and penury, I (i.e. MasterCard) purchased this wig, gown and collar for about £650 at Ede and Rip-off. Reflecting the sorry state of my legal career, the wig was hardly worn, although a few hairs have been pulled out of place (as pictured), no doubt in frustration at the sorry state of life at the junior bar…If you… would like to try [the profession] out, the same can be achieved by running yourself about £35,000 into debt and arranging for someone to shout at you in public about cases you haven’t read because you only got about half the papers about 10 minutes ago. Cancel your social life… To get the full effect, spend copious amounts of time on trains and buses with periodic crying into laptop…I do not recommend you pursue a career at the bar unless you absolutely love the work so much that you are prepared to do it for nothing.”

Julia Llewellyn Smith in the Telegraph writes about the crises that the UK Criminal Bar is facing as a result of legal aid cuts, the empowerment of solicitor-advocates and the potential outsourcing of ‘legal aid contracts’ and criminal defence to the cheapest bidder; firms such as those set up by companies like Tesco or HGV hire firm Eddie Stobart. Such proposals, particularly outsourcing to the cheapest bidder, is deeply troubling since, as the Telegraph reports, “While until now defendants have been able to choose a lawyer, under the new proposals they will be assigned to the first available, regardless of whether they are experienced in that area of the law or not. Prosecutors, however, will be selected from a group of lawyers with expertise in the relevant area of the law, giving the prosecution an advantage from the outset. Firms will be paid the same whether they win or lose a case, meaning the pressure will be paramount to turn it around as quickly as possible, making it in their interests to persuade clients to plead guilty, whether that is in the client’s interest or not.”

One criticism, quoted in the article, echoes a sentiment that I hold about in-house counsel: “I don’t want to sound snobbish, maybe some of these people will be very good and try their best, but every barrister I know is worried that if they’re no longer self-employed, their motives will no longer be to try their best for their client, but to make a profit for their boss.

– Morshed,
Dhaka

The UK “Visa Bond” Scheme

Visitor bond schemes are not the answer to the problems of immigration

As some of you may know, the UK Government is considering piloting a visa scheme where citizens of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kenya and Nigeria have to pay a GBP 3000 “bond” to be granted a visa of over 6-months in duration. While the specifics of such a scheme have yet to be detailed, the backlash from the Commonwealth has been tremendous with many politicians and policy-makers demanding that reciprocal arrangements be put in place for British tourists. If such a scheme is trialled by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, it will not only alienate potential tourists, who may not have GBP 3000 to spare, but also Commonwealth students and residents in the UK, who would not be able to have their family and friends visit if they wished to. 

This Guardian article rightly points out, in further detail, why such a scheme is not a good idea in its present, nebulous form.  

My personal, non-legal feelings about such a scheme: If you’re so keen to restrict the number of “illegal immigrants” overstaying in the UK, why not implement exit controls for Non-EU/EEA passport holders instead, as they do in Germany? I would think that would only require a couple of more counters, personnel and computers at Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham, etc.? As this article points out, would a GBP 3000 ‘visa bond’ really deter someone who wants to overstay? They’d just think its another overhead incumbent in the migration process. On a more sinister note, it would allow human traffickers to charge more for their ‘services’.

– Morshed,
Dhaka