Bar Standards Board report finds barrister trainees find course expensive, despite reforms

updated on 13 March 2023

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A survey of pupils has revealed that students still feel the course is too expensive, despite the average cost per student dropping by £4,700 in 2022, compared to 2019 (amount adjusted for inflation).

After a lengthy review process, improvements to the barrister training process were incrementally introduced in 2019. Following these reforms, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) released three reports; the Process evaluation – interim report (in conjunction with consultancy firm AlphaPlus), the BSB’s 2023 Bar Training Report and, the Central Examinations Board (CEB) Chair’s Report.

The three reports outline the aim of the reforms and how students, providers and pupils have received these changes. The programme of reforms was designed to provide candidates beginning their career at the Bar with:

  • greater flexibility;
  • improved accessibility;
  • improved affordability; and
  • continued high standards.

This led to three distinct pathways being formed for aspiring barristers. The three-step pathway (degree, vocational component, pupillage), the four-step (degree, vocational component in two parts, pupillage) and the integrated academic and vocational pathway (combined degree component and vocational component, pupillage).

However, the 2023 Bar Training Report revealed that, despite aims to improve affordability, 78% of students on the traditional three-step training pathway felt that the course was still too expensive. Out of the 483 students surveyed, 44% said the fees were “very unaffordable” and 34% said they were “fairly unaffordable”.

Further, the BSB’s report also shows that the proportion of UK-domiciled students from a minority ethnic background has increased since 2011/12 from 23% to 39% in 2021/22, with the increase chiefly driven by those from Asian/Asian British backgrounds, and those from mixed/multiple ethnic backgrounds.

Remarking on the reports, Oliver Hanmer, the BSB’s director of regulatory operations, stated: “I am delighted to see that, following our reforms, these reports demonstrate that our reforms are making bar training more accessible, flexible and affordable, while maintaining high standards of quality. It is also encouraging to see that Bar students have become more diverse.”