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Universities’ Employability Training More Important Than Their Research Credentials, Say Law Students

26 October 2011 

Nearly nine out of ten postgraduate law students say that if they were starting university now they would want their degree course to include employability and professional skills rather than just academic knowledge.


However only 16 per cent said that their university offered a very good level of practical help and advice to make them more employable while 40 per cent said that they did not receive enough advice.


Students ranked academic development, employability training and the teaching of professional skills as the three most important roles for universities while their research prowess was seen as the least important factor in students’ choice of where to study.


These were among the findings of an annual survey of its students carried out by The College of Law, the largest postgraduate legal training organisation in Europe, in conjunction with The Times newspaper.


The survey was sent to all students on the College’s Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) in September and asked for their views on career aspirations, student debt, higher education changes and tuition fees, changes to the legal profession, politics and the economy.


Of the nearly 1,800 who responded three quarters thought that higher university tuition fees would deter the best talent from less affluent backgrounds from applying to university. Some 67 per cent said the coalition government had not been effective in its handling of higher education reforms.


However 65 per cent would still have gone to university if fees had been at £9,000 per year when they were due to start. Nearly 60 per cent would have considered doing a two-year degree while two thirds would have looked seriously at an apprenticeship – recruitment into the legal profession at 18 and studying for a degree and professional qualifications while working – if one had been available.


Students’ average debt has risen to £15,600, compared with £14,800 last year, with 37 per cent shouldering debts of more than £20,000. At the same time their salary expectations on qualifying have dropped. Aspiring solicitors now expect to earn an average of £37,200 compared with £38,200 in 2010 and £40,100 in 2008. Would-be barristers’ expected salary has gone down from £34,100 last year to £33,300.


Despite this they still manage a level of optimism when asked about the prospects for the UK economy with 59 per cent believing that a recovery is underway and 73 per cent predicting that in five years time the economy will be slowly recovering, as opposed to in recession or stagnant.


The survey also looked at the changes to the legal services market and found that awareness of Alternative Business Structures (ABS) had jumped sharply with 69 per cent of students aware compared with 44 per cent last year. However 58 per cent said that they would not seek work with an ABS.


Professor Nigel Savage, Chief Executive of The College of Law, said: “The results of this year’s survey reveal the weight that today’s students place on the teaching of employability skills in higher education. They clearly vindicate the College’s strategy of prioritising employability and professional skills both in our post-graduate training and in our undergraduate law degree, which launches next year.
 
“86% of students say that it’s important for university courses to include employability and professional skills as well as academic teaching yet 40% say that their university did not provide enough practical advice to help them in their careers. This mismatch between what students want and what they are actually getting should be a real wake up call for the traditional universities.”


The Times/College of Law Student Survey 2011 – Key findings

 

  • 37% have more than £20,000 of study debt - an increase on last year’s figure (35% in 2010, 27% in 2009).
  • The average study debt has risen over the past three years - £15,600 this year compared with £14,800 in 2010 and £14,200 in 2009.
  • Expected earnings when qualifying have dropped. Aspiring solicitors expect to earn an average of £37,200 compared with £38,200 last year. Would-be barristers expect to earn £33,300 compared with £34,100 last year.
  • 65% of aspiring barristers cite ‘wanting to help people’ as one of the main reasons for entering the legal profession compared with 48% of aspiring solicitors. Aspiring barristers seem far less interested in earning potential than prospective solicitors. 41% of aspiring barrister cite this as one of the main reasons for entering the legal profession compared with 67% of aspiring solicitors  
  • 48% have no family or friends in the legal profession
  • In line with last year, those LPC/BPTC students who have studied a GDL are more aware of Alternative Business Structures (ABS) than those who have studied an LL.B (GDL - 84% very aware/aware, LL.B - 78% very aware/aware).
  • 54% agreed that the introduction of ABS would provide a wider range of employment opportunities for lawyers, however 52% thought that it would reduce legal salaries as law firms compete with other providers.
  • 58% would not seek work with an ABS and just 5 students (0.3%) would prefer to work for an ABS than a law firm.
  • 73% feel that higher tuition fees will deter the best talent from less affluent or non traditional backgrounds from applying to university. However if tuition fess had been at £9,000 when they were due to go to university, 65% would still have gone.
  • 66% said they would have considered an apprenticeship to get into the legal profession if one had been available.
  • 86% said that, if they were starting university now, it would be important that their university course included employability and professional skills rather than solely academic knowledge. However 40% said that their university did not offer sufficient practical advice to help them become more employable.
  • ‘Academic development’, ‘increasing students’ employability’ and ‘equipping students with the right professional and practical skills for their careers’ were ranked as the top three most important roles for universities.
  • When considering which university to attend ‘teaching/contact time with tutors’ was considered the most important factor closely followed by ‘teaching qualifications/expertise of staff’ and ‘graduate employment rates’. ‘Contribution to research’ was considered the least important factor.
  • Students thought that part time courses would be the most effective method of widening access to higher education.
    59% said that, if annual tuition fees had been £9,000 when they were due to go to university, they would likely have considered a two-year degree course as a way of minimising student debt.
  • 63% would prefer to combine studying for the LPC or BPTC with undertaking training in law firm or barristers chambers.
  • 67% said the coalition government had not been effective in its handling of higher education reforms. If there was an election tomorrow only 8% would vote for the Liberal Democrats
  • When asked to rank the most likely causes of the August riots ‘a long term issue of disaffected youth’ came top followed by ‘pure criminality among certain groups of young people’ then ‘breakdown in family values’ and lastly ‘government funding cuts reducing opportunities for young people’.


 

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