There has been a surprise 14% increase in the number of students enrolling on the Bar professional training course (BPTC), it has emerged.
It comes following a downward trend in recent years and despite concern among Bar leaders that the burden of student debt is having a negative impact on the junior Bar.
According to figures from the Bar Standards Board (BSB), some 1,624 students enrolled on the BPTC for 2017/18, up from 1,423 the previous year and ending four years of decline.
All students have to pass the Bar course aptitude test – aimed at reducing the number of candidates with little chance of qualifying as a barrister – before they can enrol on their BPTC. The pass mark went up in December 2016.
A portion of the increase was attributed to BPP’s new site in Bristol and an increase in places approved for both BPP and Cardiff University.
The most recent meeting of the BSB’s main board was told: “However, out of the 108 new validated places that were available, only 52 have been taken up.
“There may also be some potential impact from students wishing to complete the course before changes relating to Future Bar Training [reform programme] are implemented, but this is speculation.”
There are now eight providers of the BPTC across 15 sites in England and Wales with BPP’s Bristol expansion.
Both the new Bar Council chairman Andrew Walker QC and his predecessor, Andrew Langdon QC, have spoken recently of their fears for the future of the junior Bar, with the debt that many are carrying from their studies causing both retention problems as well as a shortage of those willing to go into publicly funded work.
A recent BSB study of BPTC students and pupillage graduates found that graduates from black and minority ethnic backgrounds were half as likely to obtain pupillages as their white peers.