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Law School has a summer of investment and recruitment

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The Open University’s current Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree was launched in 2014, following the decision to end a partnership with the University of Law.

There were some concerns at the time that student numbers might drop without this partner, previously known as the College of Law. This resulted in the design of a quite restricted degree programme, allowing LLB students just one optional choice in their final year.

However, the ‘2014 degree’ has proved a great success with student numbers rising so much that the LLB is now the University’s fourth largest named award. Despite new competitors entering the market, this translates to 74% of the UK part-time LLB market (up from 44%) and 91% of the distance learning market (up from 84%). Joint degrees at the OU with Criminology and with Languages have also been developed, as well as attracting many Open degree students to Law modules.

With the Solicitors Regulation Authority for England and Wales stating that students will no longer need a ‘Qualifying Law Degree’ (QLD), the market is now changing.

The Legal Practice Course (LPC) – a professional training course that students who wanted to become solicitors took after their degree – is being phased out. This is to be replaced by a new national two-stage exam, known as the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).

The Law School never taught the LPC but is looking to offer training for the SQE – both for its own undergraduates, and for others who are seeking the qualification – which offers the potential of a large new market.

It is also worth noting that the Bar Standards Board, on behalf of the barristers’ profession, is still expecting students to gain a QLD, as is the Law Society of Northern Ireland.

Surveys of our students indicate that just over half enter their final year of undergraduate study having decided that they do not want to enter the legal profession. So, we have three groups: students wanting a QLD; students wanting to prepare for the SQE; and students with other career aspirations. In response, we are creating three pathways for the final year of the LLB.

Additionally, with more universities offering online courses, we need to ensure that we offer our students what they want throughout their studies. We are also looking to create choice for their second year of study – with students choosing two 30-credit options from a choice of four; enabling them to tailor their degree better to their own interests and/or career aspirations.

These changes require investment and we’re grateful for the confidence placed in the Law School by the Faculty (of Business and Law) as it moves into this next stage of our development. Much of the investment is in staff and our new recruits will help write and produce our new modules and run our existing ones. Those who were in post by the Research Excellence Framework (REF) census date will also be strengthening our submission for REF 2021.

Paul Catley
Head of The Open University Law School

Dr Andrew Gilbert, Dr Clare Jones, Julian Sidoli, Dr Kim Barker, Paul Troop and Stephen Parker have already joined, while Allison Wolfreys has been seconded from the Student Experience team to the central academic team. Jill St George will be joining in September and there is also further recruitment, from an initial pool of 101 applicants, for more lecturing posts.