Dizzy Miss Lizzy

Everything and Nothing

Cost of postgraduate courses a barrier to some professions

I see from an article in the Guardian that someone is suing St Hugh’s College Oxford for refusing him a place on a postgraduate course because, despite acquiring a professional career development loan to pay for the course, he can’t prove he already has what the college deems to be sufficient funds to support himself for the duration of the course. He is apparently arguing that this is selection on the basis of wealth and disproportionately discriminates against those without access to savings and capital in breach of their human rights.

Access to some professions is only available  through post graduate qualification. The law for example. Fees for the one year Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) at the eight institutions listed by LexisNexis as validated to teach it range from £11,500 to over £17,000 for a one year course beginning in 2013.  On top of this is the £400 fee to become a member of an Inn of Court and the costs of travelling to and attending the diners (sorry, I should have said the qualifying sessions).

This is a lot of money for the average, recent graduate to find. Student loans are not available for these professional courses. Theoretically professional career development loans are available but they are difficult to obtain if you already have significant debts  (those arising from the student loan many will have relied upon to fund their undergraduate study), a low income (likely if you can only work part time while studying), no capital and no guarantee of a job when you have finished. With only eight or nine locations around the country at which to study the BPTC the majority of students will have to live away from home and therefore need funds for rent and subsistence in addition to the course fees. When you add all this together you can see why St Hugh’s College thinks £21,000 is necessary.

Even if St Hugh’s  has correctly estimated the amount required it doesn’t mean that a student needs all the funds for a year’s living expenses in advance. For heaven’s sake, what planet do they live on? How many families have funds for a year’s living expenses? Is Oxford University so used to the pampered few they don’t realise that many students fund their living expenses by working part time, paying their way from month to month, just like the vast majority of the households in this country.

Students determined to enter a profession are extremely motivated to complete the mandatory courses and unless the professions are to be effectively closed to all without private means, the students must have the option to fund their living costs by part time work.

If the LexisNexis list is accurate Oxford University doesn’t provide a BPTC course and as far as I know, the institutions that do provide for fees to be paid in instalments and don’t require evidence that a student has £21,000 of readily available funds in advance. But, assuming the aspiring barrister can earn sufficient to support themselves, there is still the question of the course fee.

The judiciary is still seen as a preserve of privately educated, white men from privileged backgrounds.  The government has said that it wants the judiciary to be more representative of the general population and the Judiciary of England and Wales itself is looking at ways to diversify is membership. Most judges previously practised as barristers and the Bar Council is keen to monitor the demographic profile of the bar, but while course fees and living costs are so high and, after next year, postgraduate students  from England will have had even larger under-graduate course fees to fund, it seems that many professions will remain closed to anyone without private means or parents able to provide the cash. Diversity of ethnicity and gender is to be welcomed but the high costs and lack of available funding mean the ethnic minorities and women swelling the ranks of the professional classes are unlikely to be working class heros.

Update: The Guardian has this week revealed that over 1000 students (15%) turn down Oxford postgraduate courses they qualified for because of the financial requirement.

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