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Law degrees: the saving grace for UK universities?

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By Philippa Canfield on

LexisNexis’ Sarah Hallowell explains just how vital law courses are to the post-Covid higher education sector

Few industries have managed to escape the financial impact of Covid-19 and it seems that the higher education sector is no exception. Over the last year, universities are estimated to have lost anywhere between £3.1-£18.6 billion — up to half of their average annual income.

Sarah Hallowell, head of academic marketing at LexisNexis UK, highlights two major contributors to the financial instability of UK universities: disruptions to the flow of lucrative international students, due to travel restrictions; and difficulties encountered when moving courses online, sparking pushback from students for a reduction in fees.

Considering the impact of Covid-19 on higher education, LexisNexis decided to explore just how valuable law courses could be to these institutions’ recovery plans.

“We have found that law degrees are an important factor for growth, particularly when it comes to reaching international students”, Hallowell explains, “in fact, despite overall international applications going down this year, the number of international applications for law courses has gone up”. UK applications have also continued to climb, ahead of the average across all degrees. As such, Hallowell suggests that universities should be looking to place more emphasis on improving their law courses as a means of drawing students in. Moreover, she describes the employability of a law course as a “critical measure of success”.

It could be the prestige of a law degree that helps maintain its position as one of the most popular undergraduate courses among applicants. However, Hallowell suggests that in and of itself is no longer enough, particularly when considering the volatility of today’s job market. With the pandemic having raised the rate of unemployment, which is likely to further increase once the furlough scheme winds down at the end of September, Hallowell stresses just how important it is for students to possess a degree that delivers tangible job prospects. “If we consider previous global crises, such as the 2008 financial crash, then ensuring that students are gaining a degree from which they can easily get a job afterwards is fundamentally important — now more than ever.” Law grads are highly employable; recent research shows that almost three-quarters (74%) have a job within six months of graduation. After 15 months, 95% of law grads are employed.

Further, the importance of studying a degree with a high level of employability, whether online or in-person, is key in light of the remaining uncertainty around how courses will be delivered come September 2021. “Students need to know that they are getting something worth the money they are paying”, says Hallowell, “they are going to be reluctant to pay full tuition fees unless they know that they are likely to secure a job at the end of it.”

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Hallowell goes on to consider how law degrees are also highly profitable courses for universities to deliver, both due to their desirability and low running costs. Unlike other popular courses, such as medicine, law doesn’t require the use of expensive equipment, access to labs or field trips and placements. Moreover, law is much easier to transfer online, which can further reduce its running costs, therefore universities looking to deliver their law courses with the use of a hybrid model may be further boosting their profit margins. Having said this, however, Hallowell cautions that law degrees will only remain highly desirable among the student population if employability is kept at the heart of the course.

One of the key considerations for universities in improving the employability of their law courses, Hallowell explains, is to focus on investing in technologies and systems that reflect those used in a legal environment. “Something that we are hearing from law firms is that they need people to know how to do these things already, as when they don’t, it’s a real challenge to find time to train them up.” A good example of this is LexisPSL, a practical tool available to law students and often used in law firms too. “When you are a student, it is the perfect opportunity to be learning how to use these tools, as you have the time to invest,” she says. “We even provide certifications, which students can do for free, so that they can test themselves and ensure they know how to use it.”

Ultimately, law courses provide a great opportunity for students to gain skills in research, problem-solving and critical analysis during their studies that will boost their chances of employment. But it’s down to course providers to recognise the importance of incorporating these skills into their courses. Although Hallowell recognises that many law faculties do seek to help their students gain these key skills, there are others who give the impression that focusing too much on job prospects “muddies” the course. Nevertheless, particularly in light of recent events, Hallowell warns that these things cannot be ignored — “employability is absolutely critical”, she says.

LexisNexis UK has now released their report exploring university law courses and employability. If you would like to gain a deeper understanding of their findings, you can download a copy of the report here.

Find out more about LexisNexis UK

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