Catherine Baksi explores the bursaries, scholarships, loans available to undergraduate students
Training to become a barrister or solicitor is a competitive and expensive business. The legal profession has made efforts to become more accessible to aspiring lawyers from all backgrounds and to increase the diversity of its members, but the financial cost remains an enormous barrier for many.
Faced with paying university tuition fees, the ridiculously expensive costs of the professional training courses and then funding themselves through a training contract or pupillage, many find themselves starting their working life with enormous debts.
That’s the scary part, but don’t be discouraged. Bursaries, scholarships and grants that do not have to be repaid are available to students during undergraduate law degrees through to the graduate diploma in law and professional training courses and training contracts or pupillage.
Unfortunately, finding where that help comes from, can be a challenge and a bit time-consuming. Here’s a guide to what’s on offer at the different stages of your journey into the law that might help make it a bit less bumpy.
Undergraduate law degree
Most universities now charge the maximum £9,000 a year tuition fees for students on their undergraduate law degrees. While that fee may seem daunting, remember that you do not have to pay it upfront and you will not have to start paying back tuition fee loans until the April after you graduate and are earning at least £21,000 a year.
Most universities and colleges offer bursaries and scholarships to help students with their tuition fees, accommodation, maintenance and other expenses. They will, this year spend £290m on bursaries and reduced tuition fees for poorer students – a fact criticised this week by the government’s social mobility advisor Alan Milburn. He suggested that the money should instead be targeted at helping children from less well off families stay in school.
Anyway, for the moment the bursaries and grants remain. Some are made available to first year students either on the basis of their academic achievements at school or financial need, while others are given to reward students for performance during their degree.
Details of available funding, criteria, application processes and deadlines can be found on the websites of the individual universities and colleges. It is worth checking both the awards provided by the university, which are open to all students, as well as those provided by the law school or faculty, offered only to students studying a law degree.
To get you started, here are a couple that caught my eye: Among some of the undergraduate awards available at University College London are the Freshfields Scholarships. International law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer provides two awards of £10,000 per year of study, for law students from less privileged backgrounds. Recipients also benefit from eight weeks a year of paid work experience at the firm and an award under the college’s bursary scheme to provide additional support of up to £3,500. The awards are designed to assist candidates who aspire to be City lawyers and who have little or no family history of higher education and would become first generation graduates.
Queen Mary University London offers scholarships and bursaries to around 50% of its undergraduate body. Among them are a number of £1,000 bursaries awarded on the basis of a student’s academic record before joining, as well as second and final year bursaries recognising students’ success while at university.
Students from families on a low income – up to £25,000 a year – can apply for bursaries from their universities to help cover tuition and maintenance fees, under the National Scholarship Programme. A list of participating universities and colleges can be downloaded from the Directgov website.
The site also has details of tuition fee loans, maintenance loans and maintenance grants for living expenses. You should apply in the spring of the year that your course starts. Competition is fierce and students are advised to apply as early as possible.
If you have children or dependant adults you may be able to apply for additional grants to cover childcare. Those in full-time higher education with children under 15, or under 17 if they have special educational needs, can apply for a childcare grant of up to £148.75 a week for one child and £255 for two or more children. Students with disabilities may also be able to benefit from the Disabled Students’ Allowances.
Look out for the next article in this series, where Catherine Baksi explores the funding options for the next stage of training
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