The regulator yesterday opened the tender for a provider to administer the Solicitors Qualifying Exam from September 2020.
The tender document reveals that the SRA intends to keep controls over the exam’s content and standards, making the pass mark subject to the approval of the chief executive. The SRA will also own all intellectual property in the SQE brand, which will be licensed to the successful supplier.
The SRA will not pay the supplier, although it may provide some funds to cover the upfront costs. Suppliers will set candidates fees, subject to SRA approval, which must remain ‘broadly stable’ and represent ‘value for money’ for the candidates paying.
According to the documents, the regulator will insist on ‘open book access’ to the assessment supplier’s accounts to determine whether fees being charged are fair and reasonable and to justify any increase. It is stressed in the tender document that the regulator is not necessarily seeking the lowest fee proposed, although there are no suggestions what the fee should be.
To ensure candidates are not charged excessive fees, any profits beyond a certain level from the SQE will be paid into a ‘re-investment fund’. The level of this cap is unspecified.
The document adds: ‘The SQE is not an income generating exercise for the SRA and we do not wish to retain excess profits for ourselves. We will decide how this money is spent either in connection with the improvement of the SQE or to provide financial assistance to candidates.’
The SRA states the exam must be a ‘rigorous, valid and reliable assessment’ that ensures newly qualified solicitors have the competences required for effective practice.
As expected, the qualification will be in two parts: a computer-based exam testing legal knowledge and a series of practical assessments.
The chosen assessment supplier will conduct its work in an ‘open and transparent way’ to help universities, training providers, publishers and employers prepare for implementation.
The SRA confirms it is prepared to work with a supplier already engaged in training – a potential conflict of interest revealed this week by the Gazette.
In response to this issue, the SRA adds: ‘We will only contract with an assessment supplier who is either not engaged in the delivery of preparatory training for the SQE or who can assure use that there is a separation of these activities to avoid any perceived or actual conflict of interest of distortion of the training market.’
The closing date for final submissions is 1 September, with shortlisted bidders notified by 1 November and a contract issued next March.