Tuesday, 30 May, 2023

What Is behind BSB's Online Exams Suspension?

Ahnaf Fahmin

Recently, BSB decided to suspend online exams from Bangladesh and Pakistan immediately. This is shameful for all Barristers from these countries who worked so hard to reach the end of a glorious journey to earn the prestigious title. First of all, it must be noted that the bar course usually enrols more than 50% of students from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Mauritius and Malaysia every year. Since Covid-19 educational institutes were forced to rely on technology to avoid interruption. I have completed Bar Professional Training Course which was very challenging and intense. Although we sat some of the exams online, I can assure everybody it was as difficult as pen-and-paper exams. In fact, we were proctored very strictly. The camera and mic were working throughout the exam and our laptop screens were recorded. And, of course, we had to scan every corner of the room before clicking the start button. Many students had to resit some exams.

However, the Bar Course has changed since 2020 as providers offered more courses. Some of the modules have changed too. For example, ADR and Civil Litigation merged but it made more sense to have them as separate modules considering their importance. I strongly believe that there should be only one form of bar course available to become a barrister to maintain a higher threshold to protect the dignity of this profession. Maybe the Inns of courts and senior members of this profession can advocate reconsidering this matter. I personally find it quite unfair for us who travels to the UK to do the extended and expensive version of the course while some are sitting in Bangladesh and getting the same title through BTT. The training course is so intense that it cannot be too effective if it is done remotely. Now that everything is back to normal we can only have one structured course that will be only provided in the UK.

I can assure BSB has not taken the decision of suspension without having real evidence of malpractice. I cannot deny that we have not heard of such incidents in the last two years. At the same time, it should be considered whether online exams should be abolished from the bar course. I have always preferred pen-and-paper assessments and scored 75 in modules like Criminal Litigation. However, assessments that require oral skills may still be conducted online. Before 2020, getting into the bar course was also more challenging as it required us to apply through the BSB to 3 institutions at a time, only once every year. However, the new rule to apply directly to any provider has added more flexibility in the application process as the universities are still maintaining the same threshold.

It should also be concerning that more than 90% of the students from Bangladesh and Pakistan pursue their law degree from the University Of London's external programme. I have witnessed and heard from many students and reliable sources how online exams were exploited by dishonest students. Thus, the students who could not pass the first year with multiple attempts ended up completing the degree with a higher second class. Such exam structure is also preventing students to develop necessary analytical skills and discouraging them from understanding the law. Initially, in 2020 UOL decided to conduct assessments online through remote proctoring but as the software crashed they changed their decision and asked the students to simply upload their answers like coursework. This became a golden opportunity for the mischievous ones to exploit to the fullest. This went on until 2022. During this phase, some students paid barristers to sit the assessments for them in the absence of effective surveillance. It is also disgraceful how some barristers breached their ethical duties by being an accomplice to commit academic misconduct.

This year, UOL decided to conduct assessments at designated venues in the presence of invigilators but still allow students to use books and notes. Although electronic devices are prohibited, open book exams are not the same threshold as a 3-hour pen-and-paper exam and also undermine the ability of those who graduated before 2020. My aim is not to humiliate or attack anyone but simply raise this concerning issue that needs to be addressed by the expertise of senior members of the profession. At the same time, I felt BSB's decision to suspend online exams only in Bangladesh and Pakistan gives a wrong impression in the sense that mischief can exist among students of any place and if the root cause behind it is not addressed anyone can exploit online assessments from any place. The rule must be the same for all students, and external courses like BTT must be abolished since it can be a real threat to the future of this prestigious profession. There is no shame in being average but it should be a crime in this profession to defraud the entire system.


The writer is a Barrister-At-Law at Lincoln’s Inn