Privately owned and with a tough work ethic, BPP is a university with a lot of differences.

On the day last month that BPP was granted degree-awarding powers, its share price jumped 13 per cent. These two events summed up the fact that Britain's newest higher education institution is not your average university.

BPP, based across four campuses in the UK (Leeds, Manchester, and Holborn and Waterloo in London), is a private company specialising in professional education in business and law, and is the first private company to have been given the power to award degrees. Buckingham, the only other private university in the UK, is a non-profit-making charity.

"We do intend to have academic gowns and graduation ceremonies and a figure-head," says BPP chief executive Peter Crisp, referring to the grandeur and flummery of higher education. "But we're not intending to replicate the undergraduate experience. Our market is not the 19-year- old school-leaver."

Crisp is also dean of BPP law school, which has recently become a honeypot for ambitious graduates. The new law degrees will take the form of an accelerated two-year LLB – aimed at the overseas market – a standard three-year LLB, and an LLM.

To gain the "top-up" LLM, students will be required to stay on after their legal practice course (LPC), which is already taught at Masters level, and complete two extra modules over a minimum of two months.

The LLM will offer students the chance to carry out practice-driven, rather than academic, research into topics at the cutting-edge of law over the summer, before entering a firm the following September.

But whether this crop of highly motivated, career-minded students will wish to bother converting their vocational qualification to an academic one is yet to be seen.

BPP students work hard, unlike many of those in the recent Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) survey, which revealed that British undergraduates average the lowest study hours in Europe.

"Our students are typically working a 40-hour week," says Crisp. "It's not like being an undergraduate. You have to treat it like a job – we expect a high degree of professionalism."

That professionalism is reflected in the course tutors who, according to Crisp, view their students as clients. "We don't see them as a burden, and we don't see them getting in the way of our research," he says.

This professionalism is perhaps inevitable. Although Crisp says BPP sees itself as being at the heart of higher education, the institute has one foot firmly in the professional world.

The LPC is taught exclusively by legal professionals. The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) has a 50-50 split between practitioners and academics.

And although the new LLM and two- and three-year LLBs will be rolled out over the coming year, the law school's flagship courses remain the vocational GDL and LPC.

The LPC, for which BPP law school is famous, was designed by the company at the behest of five blue-chip City law firms, including Lovells, Herbert Smith, and Norton Rose. These firms send their trainees exclusively to BPP.

"These contracts with the big law firms mean BPP tends to cream off the best people," says Mark McCanney. McCanney is a newly qualified associate at a top City law firm. After completing his undergraduate degree in Scottish law at Edinburgh University, he did a part-time GDL, and then took the LPC.

"It's the same as with universities: the best universities aren't the best because they have the best books," he says. "They're the best because they take the best people. At BPP, you're constantly bouncing off people who are of a high standard."

The facilities are good too, according to McCanney. But that's because the fees are so high, he says. Anyone with a general undergraduate degree wanting to go through the GDL and the LPC – as is so often the case with graduates nowadays – is looking at fees of at least £15,000. That's why it pays to get a training contract.

Cassie Cooper, 25, from Oxford, started her LPC last month, having completed her GDL.

"I decided to do the GDL a month before the course started," she says. "It was a big gamble – it's not cheap to do, and you need to feel your money's going to a good place. But I wouldn't take a penny back."

Cooper has now, in her second year, secured a training contract with a prominent law firm.

"I believe I've been given an outstanding education," she says. "I wouldn't have got this training contract without it. The career opportunities are second to none."