Preferential Treatment, Social Justice, and the Part‐time Law Student – The Case for the Value‐added Part‐time Law Degree

AuthorAndrew M. Francis,Iain W. McDonald
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6478.2006.00349.x
Date01 March 2006
Publication Date01 March 2006
JOURNAL OF LAW AND SOCIETY
VOLUME 33, NUMBER 1, MARCH 2006
ISSN: 0263-323X, pp. 92±108
Preferential Treatment, Social Justice, and the Part-time
Law Student ± The Case for the Value-added Part-time
Law Degree
Andrew M. Francis* and Iain W. McDonald**
There has been growing pressure to increase diversity in legal
education and the legal profession in England and Wales. While this
has focused upon the absence of certain groups such as women, ethnic
minorities, and the disabled, there has been no specific discussion of
part-time law students. Drawing on questionnaires and focus groups
with part-time law students across England and Wales, this article
examines how their background and experiences may hamper their
ability to participate and succeed in higher education and legal
practice. In response to the consistent omission of part-time students'
needs from attempts to enhance social diversity in universities and the
legal profession, it also argues that affirmative action is now necessary
and justified in respect of these students. Pragmatic suggestions are
made for a contextual approach to affirmative action for part-time law
students which adds value to their degree. Finally, the potential effects
of affirmative action on part-time law students themselves and upon the
gatekeepers to the legal profession are explored.
INTRODUCTION
In recent years, there has been growing pressure to increase diversity in legal
education and the legal profession in England and Wales. This has focused
upon the absence of certain groups such as women, ethnic minorities, and the
disabled, and some progress has been made in improving their position.
92
ß2006 The Author. Journal Compilation ß2006 Cardiff University Law School. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd,
9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA
* School of Law, Keele University, Staffordshire ST5 5BG, England
** Law Faculty, Frenchay Campus, University of the West of England,
Coldharbour Lane, Bristol BS16 1QY, England
a.m.francis@law.keele.ac.uk Iain.McDonald@uwe.ac.uk
We would like to thank the students and institutions that participated in this study for their
valuable time and cooperation and the Nuffield Foundation, whose funding support made
this project possible: Nuffield Foundation Grant Reference SGS/00932/G.
However, a group that has so far been overlooked is part-time law students.
1
Part-time students are a diverse cohort whose profile rarely fits that of the
`typical' student, the `single, geographically mobile 18±21 year old'.
2
Yet
there are reasons to believe that they suffer distinct problems in higher
education and in achieving access to the legal profession which need
particular attention.
Higher education policy has consistently forgotten or overlooked the
implications of change for part-time students.
3
The most recent example is
the absence of significant debate on this issue during the passage of the
4
Under the new scheme for student fees, part-
time students will not benefit from the deferred repayment of fees set out in
section 41 and are tied into a more onerous payment scheme than their full-
time counterparts. In addition, although many students now work part-time
to support their studies, this usually cannot be compared to part-time
students working full-time while juggling study and caring responsibilities.
If research into the experiences of (law) undergraduates continues to
overlook the distinctiveness of part-time undergraduates, the significant
difficulties that these students frequently face will continue to be ignored.
This article examines the ways in which the background and experiences
of part-time students may hamper their ability to participate and succeed in
higher education and the legal profession. We draw upon the results of
questionnaires distributed to part-time law students across England and
Wales in 2004, and of follow-up focus groups, which explored the experi-
ences and aspirations of this cohort. Our argument is that the specific
problems of part-time students must be addressed if universities and the legal
profession are to succeed in meaningfully widening participation in legal
education and in diversifying the future composition of the profession.
Indeed, part-time law students may provide a telling litmus test of just how
committed these institutions are to achieving equality and diversity. In
response to the consistent omission of part-time students' needs from
attempts to enhance social diversity in universities and the legal profession,
we argue that affirmative action is now necessary and justified in respect of
93
1 See, for example, P. Harris and M. Jones, `A Survey of Law Schools in the United
Kingdom, 1996' (1997) 31 Law Teacher 38; L. Norman, Career Choices in Law: A
Survey of Law Students (2004); A. Boon et al., `Career Paths and Choices in a Highly
Differentiated Profession: the Position of Newly Qualified Solicitors' (2001) 64
Modern Law Rev. 563, at 565. In this paper we focus on those registered on face-to-
face qualifying law degrees, rather than those studying through distance learning
schemes.
2 R. Maynard, `Are Mature Students a Problem?' (1992) 17 J. of Access Studies 106, at
108.
3 T. Schuller et al., Part-time Higher Education ± Policy, Practice and Experience
(1999) 19±22.
4 The only reference to part-time students is in s. 31, whereby the Director of Fair
Access must seek to identify good practice in full-time and part-time education. See,
also, Baroness Ashton, 662 H.L. Debs., col. 561, 14 June 2004.
ß2006 The Author. Journal Compilation ß2006 Cardiff University Law School

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