A RADICAL new system of State-funded student loans could be introduced if the Government adopts proposals put forward by the Trainee Solicitors' Group.
The TSG has voted in favour of abandoning the present "ad hoc" grants system, replacing it with a "sensitively designed loans scheme" devised by a group working party.
The scheme would provide sufficient funds to cover both fees and maintenance costs for post-graduate students studying the Legal Practice Course, with repayment through the tax or national insurance system commencing when the recipient reaches the average graduate starting salary, which currently stands at £14,492.
LPC tuition fees are, at present, approximately £5,000 and CPE students, who would also benefit from the scheme, pay around £3,000. The TSG also estimates between £3,000 and £5,000 per year is spent on "day-to-day living".
Based on systems currently in practice in the US and Australia, the TSG's proposals have been put to both the Government and opposition parties.
Working party chair Warren Forsyth says that if it is implemented the new scheme will allow greater access to the profession by ending financial concerns for the less well-off.
He says the TSG's proposals could have wider implications for the education system, with an income contingent loan repayment scheme being extended to other courses.
"The working party's recommendations have great implications, not only for legal education courses, but for a much wider range of study," says Forsyth.
"If fully implemented, the proposals will end the student debt problem overnight allowing those from lower income families, currently fearful of taking on the large financial commitment of the LPC, to enrol upon it and consequently increase the representativeness of the legal profession."
The TSG is asking for a Government commitment to cap interest rates on the loan at nine per cent, and says repayments should be fixed at three per cent of taxable income, over and above taxation.
If debts are not cleared with-in 25 years, the TSG proposes they should be written off.
"We were hunting around for ideas to break the log-jam in relation to current thinking on funding the LPC," says TSG chair Richard Moorhead.
"Things are just getting so bad and to carry on pushing for discretionary grants doesn't seem to be getting us anywhere."