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All universities are needed for the public good


I still remember my time at Cambridge with fondness. I am a Scholar of my College there, as I was awarded the second highest First in the whole University in finals (“Part II”) in 1996. I think it’s very hard to be overtly or covertly disloyal to any educational establishment you have attended, unless you truly had a terrible time. I remember being supervised by some outstanding academics, a few even Nobel prize winners. It’s crazy to think I once sat next to César Milstein, who was  awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology for physiology and medicine, for his invention of monoclonal antibody technology which has subsequently produced massive benefit and outcomes for the medical profession as regards therapeutic value. I also remember sitting next to the Head of Interpol at a conference on economic crime, as we raised a ‘Floreat’ toast to the Queen.

Cambridge then, in the mid 1990s, had too its fair share of appalling lecturers. Paid by one of the ‘best’  Universities globally, some University Teaching Officers were completely incapable of giving a one-hour lecture. At worst, I had almost post-traumatic stress disordered memories of paper aeroplanes and chicken noises during an explanation by a Professorial fellow at Caius College on ‘Starling’s Law of the Heart’. Lectures might over-run, there might be totally illegible acetates, or the sound of delivery was just too awful for words. Ultimately, it did not as such matter, as Cambridge tries hard to allow people to leave with at least a II.1, thought of (and assumed possibly unfairly) by many employers as a badge of merit. At Cambridge, I worked out before my undergraduate time was up that there was a schism between what was lectured and what was subsequently examined. I stayed on at Cambridge to do my Ph.D., where I published on a seminal finding in behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia, which has since been replicated many times over. It is even in the current Oxford Textbook of Medicine.

After my health took a turn for the worst, I ‘started again’ in a private learning establishment, known as ‘BPP Law School’ at Waterloo, London. I undertook to do the Graduate Diploma of Law, which is the qualification regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority to provide academic competence in the foundation subjects of the English law. BPP Law School’s learning officer, Fiona Dymond, was always at the end of the phone when my late father used to ring her up when he was worried that I was unconscious for yet another day at the Royal Free ITU due to bacterial meningitis. In negotiation with BPP Law School, I changed to the part-time weekend distance learning mode in due course. My late father used to wheel me to lectures in the wheelchair which I used for mobility between 2006-2008.

I received my Graduate Diploma of Law from BPP Law School in March 2009. The graduation ceremony was held at the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn. This was an extremely proud evening for my mother, late father, and me. After that, I then successfully was awarded a Commendation in my Master of Law from the College of Law in December 2010. That course was a course which I did entirely through distance learning, but it was a difficult time for me as I was newly-disabled and starting my recovery from a common mental illness, alcoholism. The pastoral support I received from BPP Law School, which became BPP University this week, and the College of Law, which became the University of Law, was second to none.

My Master of Law in international commercial law, which I did at the College or University of Law, was very tightly focused on international practitioner skills. I was then kindly given permission by the Solicitors Regulation Authority to study the equally “practice facing” Legal Practice Course, after carefully discussing with them the personal troubles I had experienced with alcoholism. In the meantime, I had enrolled to do a Master of Business Administration at BPP Business School, which I completed in early 2011. I don’t regret learning about behaviours, skills and knowledge from the business and legal world for a moment, whatever I decide to do in the future. Giving clear advice (and I probably know how to argue convincingly both sides of any argument now thanks to any legal training) is a totally different skill to evaluating evidence critically for an hour for your finals at Cambridge.

Enough about me, me, me. Enough’s enough. I just wanted to say that if I had my time again and I wished to be a barrister or solicitor I would go to a private university such as BPP or the University of Law. This is because the course materials have clearly been refined to teach the behaviours, skills and knowledge needed to practise the law. I also think the link between the assessments and course is much clearer, but this could be an artifact of the course being so carefully regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. I am clearly not in any hurry, as I am a person who lives ‘just for today’. However, BPP trains up the vast majority of accountants in England, and successfully trained many of those who ultimately go onto be called to the Bar or admitted onto the Roll of Solicitors. I am, though, a card-carrying academic, and wouldn’t swop what I know now for anything.

I have written this fairly short article, as I am very loyal to three Universities where I have been educated, Cambridge University, BPP University and the University of Law. I think the purpose of the law is exactly as Prof Michael Sandel describes it for the US jurisdiction in his seminal lectures on justice at Harvard. I think a superficial purpose of law is for a correcting mechanism for misdemeanours in all spheres of life. A second more absorbing purpose of the law is to enable the ‘public good’. Any person who is truly inclusive in philosophy, and I am a card-carrying socialist, will believe in the need to find value in all agents of society. If there is intense competition for places, as will be evidenced in England this thursday by UCAS in ‘clearing’, with people aged 18 wishing to pursue a University education for the next few years, we should as a society be welcoming the different educations which they all have to offer. No learning institution is wishing to undermine anyone else, so any feeling of suspicion is totally unmerited. Having now completed 8 degrees and my Legal Practice Course, at the age of 39, I wish everyone going up to University this Autumn the very best of luck. Private universities, like public universities, have a critical rôle to play for this public good. What you learn in life, though, will be probably just as valuable, if not more!

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