New route likely to cost more than £20k, professional body warns
The Law Society of England and Wales has called on the government to fund loans for students taking the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).
In its submission to the Treasury ahead of the 2021 spending review and autumn budget, the Society warned that the costs of SQE exams and prep courses are likely to add up to more than £20,000. This figure does not include any costs students might incur for travel and accommodation.
“We are concerned that candidates from less privileged backgrounds will face a significant barrier to entry to the legal profession, with consequences for the diversity of the profession,” the Society said.
It also warned that the cost of the SQE could have implications for the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda. “[W]hile City law firms will be able to continue covering the costs of qualification for their trainees, as they do currently, the smaller firms that dominate in small and medium-sized towns will not have the money to do likewise,” it continued. “These regional firms’ ability to attract talented individuals and create good quality, high value, professional jobs in their local areas will come under threat.”
The Society recommended the introduction of a publicly funded loan scheme for SQE candidates, similar to the ‘professional career development’ loans that were available to students on the Legal Practice Course before the scheme’s discontinuation.
“There are a number of different avenues for achieving this — whether by extending an existing scheme, such as the ‘advanced learner loans’ scheme, or by creating a bespoke product — and we are open to working with the government to identify the most appropriate solution,” the Society added.
The recommendation comes after the Solicitors Regulation Authority said 1,155 students had signed up to take the first ever SQE exam next month. The majority of the candidates (74%) are taking the assessment in the UK, with the remainder doing so overseas.
The next budget, along with the conclusions of the 2021 spending review, will be held on 27 October. The SQE officially came into force on 1 September this year.