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‘I wonder why I am spending £9,000’: A growing grievance in university law schools

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Are law degrees worth the money? Legal Cheek hears from some discontented students

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Studying the LLB, a number of law students believe, is not good value for money.

Since the £9,000-a-year tuition fee hit, and maybe even before, students have adopted a consumer mentality: ‘I’m paying money, so I should get something in return’ (contract law consideration 101).

Though it’s not all that easy to say what that ‘something’ is, at its most basic, students expect access to university resources and teaching.

But law is a teaching-lite degree. Using Which? ’s comparison tool, you’ll see law students have — on average — 11 hours and 41 minutes of contact time with lecturers and tutors a week. This figure drops down closer to eight hours at some of the more elite universities, including Oxford and Durham.

By comparison, education students boast 13 hours 19 minutes, business students 12 hours 22 minutes, creative arts and design students 13 hours 37 minutes and physical sciences students 17 hours 25 minutes. Medicine and dentistry students top the table with just over 21 contact hours — almost double that of the average aspiring lawyer.

Factor in insane book costs and falling graduate prospects, it’s unsurprising the United Kingdom has a lot of unhappy aspiring lawyers. Here is just some of the feedback we received from law students when asked if they think their degree is good value:

I do wonder why I am spending £9,000 a year.

Given that it is a relatively cheap course to run, with students purchasing their own books, few contact hours and no specialised work spaces, I think it’s fair for law students to expect better value for money.

I personally feel £9,000 is a lot of money when sometimes I only spend 12 hours of my week in timetabled sessions.

With tuition fees on the up (many universities are now charging £9,250 per year), it’s likely this dissatisfaction will persist.

This may not be just a case of moany-millennial-law-student-itis; Legal Cheek spoke to a legal education and training expert who echoed aspiring lawyers’ concerns.

Though he sympathises with law school tutors (“they have a lot of plates to spin”), he ultimately thinks they “spend too much time researching and not enough time teaching”. While there is something to be said for the value of independent reading and study, there is a fine line between problem-solving-based learning and academics who appear to put students in second place. This line may well have been crossed: one of the most common sources of complaint from undergrads is a lack of feedback from tutors.

Our legal education expert — who wishes to remain anonymous — concludes that the lack of teaching and timetabled hours means that lawyers cost less money to educate and that law degrees are, comparatively-speaking, very cheap to put on. As a result, the £9,000 paid per year ends up being passed on to non-law students through the subsidisation of course costs. Is this why LLB places have shot up in the past few years? Law schools, our expert tells us, are becoming cash cow “super faculties” just at the point when consumer-minded students are demanding better value for money.

Even the government feels there is a need to increase the accountability of tutors and the universities they teach in (though probably more because it wants to make them accountable to it rather than to students per se): the Higher Education and Research Bill — currently in the House of Commons — aims to give students the opportunity to register complaints and put pressure on staff as well as establishing an ‘Office for Students’.

At ground level, some students are feeling it too.

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Take just one example from the University of Bristol where there has been a strong sense of unrest among the arts, social sciences and law student community about this, culminating in a protest (pictured above) where students demanded to know “Where is half our money going if not on us?”. The protest’s organiser claimed:

Arts and social science (ASS) students don’t know exactly what their money is spent on. What they do know is that around two thirds of it isn’t spent on them. UoB must explain exactly where ASS students’ money goes. We demand total transparency.

Not all law students fall into the aggrieved camp, however, taking a quality-over-quantity line. Some undergrads believe there are tangible benefits coming from the tuition fees. One says “the fees we are paying are being channelled into resources that benefit us”; another says: “we have a law library on site with access to syndicate rooms exclusively for law students which makes me feel like my tuition fee is being spent on facilities just for law students.”

And there are more intangible benefits cited too.

Going back to our original student mentality proposition (‘I’m paying money, so I should get “something” in return’), students’ definition of ‘something’ is not necessarily ‘teaching’, and ‘value for money’ is not synonymous with ‘£9,000 divided by the number of contact hours’.

The LLB is still a well-respected, hard-currency degree, and many students are far more concerned about what a law degree can do for them in the longer run than whether — hour by hour — it’s value for money. One student sums this up when he says:

Personally, it’s not the contact hours, the lectures or the classes that makes my degree worth £9,000. It’s the doors that a law degree opens for me in the future that make it fantastic value for money.

We should leave the last word to another student who — using typical Legal Cheek lingo — points out that if you: “manage to bag a training contract by the end of your degree, the tuition fees are certainly worth it.”