Closure of the Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice →
Closure of the Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice →
University of Wollongong Law Students’ Society Closure of the Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice University of Wollongong Law Students‘ Society McKinnon Building (BLG 67), Northfields Avenue, NSW, 2522 University of Wollongong Law Students’ Society
Report Background The University of Wollongong Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice (GDLP) has been offered at the university since 1998 and will have its last intake of students in the Autumn Session of 2013 after fifteen award winning years of teaching. The closure of the UOW GDLP was announced on 30 November 2012 to students and is a decision that the UOW Law Students’ Society (LSS) firmly opposes. The announcement regarding the closure identified ongoing significant financial challenges as the core reason for the program’s closure with the upcoming faculty restructure necessitating a sound balance sheet for UOW Law. Since 30 November 2012 the UOWLSS has held several meetings with the Faculty of Law Executives including the Associate Dean and Dean of the faculty. We have surveyed student opinions on a raft of issues related to the closure and have emailed tutors, alumni, members of the local legal profession and current students to gauge opinions. All of this correspondence has been with the view of lobbying UOW governance to reinstate the GDLP at UOW. Opposition The UOWLSS opposes the decision for the following reasons which it has firmly brought to the faculty’s attention. “Producing Job-Ready Graduates” It has been identified by UOWLSS academic members and executive members alike that UOW at large commits to producing ‘job-ready’ graduates (1) and this is a core focus of general UOW pedagogy. As attaining a GDLP is a mandatory requirement for admission as a legal practitioner, the UOWLSS sees this move as a major shortcoming on UOW’s commitment to producing ‘job-ready’ graduates. The UOWLSS appreciates that the law faculty is committed to enhancing the teaching of practical legal skills in the undergraduate degree. We find it difficult however to artificially separate the two qualifications when speaking of ‘job-ready’ graduates. Of all students surveyed by the UOWLSS 64% had concerns about the quality of their legal education at UOW since the decision to close the GDLP. The UOWLSS is also concerned that UOW graduates will have less networking opportunities with the local legal profession.
Pre-enrolment Commitment Many academic members of the UOWLSS have voiced the concern that the GDLP was promoted to them as future students in order to make the UOW undergraduate law program more appealing. The ability to incorporate the PLT into their ‘straight law degree’ or to at least study PLT at the same institution as their ‘double degree’ was identified as a major selling point of UOW Law. Academic members, particularly those entering their second, third and fourth year of study had largely been led to believe this was a guaranteed opportunity to which they could apply. Members have likened the closure to a betrayal of what they considered a fundamental promise. It was identified that 41% of students surveyed held the availability of the GDLP to be ‘very influential’ in their decision to study Law at UOW while 45% held it to be ‘somewhat influential’. The UOWLSS condemns this ‘backflip’ on UOW Law’s inadvertent commitment to providing the UOW GDLP pathway at least to the students to which it was advertised.
University of Wollongong Law Students’ Society Closure of the Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice 1
Super-Faculties The UOWLSS is concerned that the GDLP may be being lost for reasons in addition to the financial challenges the program faces. The UOWLSS is concerned that the incoming ‘super faculty’ structure (2) has had undue influence on the decision to terminate the GDLP program. This concern is particularly pertinent in light of the Vice-Chancellor’s guarantee that the structure will not result in any subject or course cuts (3). This concern is also amplified by the fact that the decision to close the GDLP was made on financial grounds despite UOW students being assured that UOW was in ‘excellent financial condition’ posting a $37.8 million surplus for 2011 (4). While the UOWLSS has been assured by the faculty that the incoming faculty structure has not been a direct reason for the closure, the UOWLSS is concerned that UOW governance has put surplus above educational quality, despite far exceeding the initial budgeted surplus. Consultation The UOWLSS has been identified by its members and the staff of the Law Faculty to be the peak representational group for UOW Law students. The UOWLSS finds it insulting and rude that the decision to close the GDLP was made without prior consultation with the UOWLSS. Moreover the UOWLSS views it as improper and unjust that the decision was also made without consultation with the Faculty Education Committee (FEC). The FEC is comprised of academic staff, administrative staff and student representatives, and by its own policy is responsible for “course and subject proposals…course and subject review…[and] advice consultation and feedback” for the faculty’s course related decisions (5). While the UOWLSS understands that student consultation would have undoubtedly resulted in strong dissent with the decision, the UOWLSS still views consultation with it or the FEC as part of the due process of UOW educational operation. Of the students surveyed 79% said they were ‘very disappointed’ by the lack of student consultation.
The UOWLSS finds this even more concerning considering that 95.8% of UOW law students surveyed in 2011 for the Federal Government’s “MyUniversity” league table (6) were satisfied with the UOW law program. The UOWLSS regrettably predicts this number to fall for 2013 results. Communication The UOWLSS also identified the communication of the decision as being unclear and vague. The SOLS message sent to students on 30 November 2012 was riddled with language appropriate for academic and business publications, not publications concerning education and being delivered to students. Of the students surveyed 74% found it difficult to understand and vague while 21% still had questions after reading all information released by the faculty. The faculty was eager to address this concern and as such Professor Warwick Gullett has personally written a less formal release of the decision and its rationale. The UOWLSS have agreed to include the release as an annexure to this report. The UOWLSS however does appreciate Professor Gullett’s commitment to have the decision communicated better with much of his personal time being spent consulting with the UOWLSS on how best to communicate the decision after receiving the negative feedback.
Conclusions After a recent meeting with the UOW Dean of Law, Professor Warwick Gullett, the UOWLSS has come to a number of conclusions regarding the GDLP. Firstly the UOWLSS has confirmed that the decision to close the GDLP was not ultimately made by the faculty but by UOW governance on recommendation from the faculty. The UOWLSS understands that the faculty made the recommendation with regret and was immensely proud of the program’s achievements. University of Wollongong Law Students’ Society Closure of the Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice 2
The UOWLSS also understands that the faculty examined various options to reconfigure the GDLP to be cost effective in light of its financial challenges, however ultimately even a 100% online delivery method would be run at a loss; an option already offered for less cost by GDLP provider The College of Law. The UOWLSS understands that the faculty has thus faced these financial challenges for in excess of five years and has honestly made every attempt to make the GDLP program profitable. The UOWLSS appreciates that in order to continue the program the quality of the undergraduate program may have to be compromised. The UOWLSS firmly opposes such a move that may include increases in class sizes; small class sizes being a very notable and beneficial aspect of the UOW Law Program.
Despite the faculty’s financial conclusions however, the UOWLSS is not satisfied that UOW governance should restrict the ability of the faculty to provide the GDLP program in light of the surplus posted in 2011 and the guarantees of the Vice- Chancellor mentioned above. Therefore the UOWLSS has determined to change the focus of its lobbying action from the faculty to the governance bodies responsible for the decision with 88% of students surveyed supporting an official submission in this manner. The UOWLSS will therefore commit to increasing the breadth of its data gathering from students and research into proper UOW process in order to make this decision. The UOWLSS commits to making this submission before 4 March 2013. Alternate Actions The UOWLSS also understands however that its ultimate purpose is to act in the best interests of its members and as such is in the process of negotiating with other GDLP providers to deliver their flexible programs on-site at UOW. The UOWLSS envisions a situation similar to the delivery that University of Western Sydney students currently enjoy on-site from The College of Law.
The UOWLSS believes that while the reinstatement of the award winning UOW GDLP program would be ideal, on-site delivery of any GDLP program will be best for our members. The UOWLSS also believes that it could potentially be even better for students with a more flexible approach being offered by external providers at a cheaper price. The UOWLSS will also be inviting The College of Law and the Australian National University Legal Workshop (both excellent GDLP providers) onto campus in early Autumn Session of 2013 to educate our members of their options should the UOW GDLP not be reinstated.
The UOWLSS appreciates its members’ involvement in being surveyed and voicing their opinion on the matter. The UOWLSS is committed to ensuring the quality of the education of its members and representing their views on all matters concerned with their study at UOW and student life. Should you wish to contact the UOWLSS to be involved or provide feedback on this issue or report, please do not hesitate to email the President or Vice-President (Education). Nathan Johnston, Vice-President (Education) email@example.com Jessica Dawson, President firstname.lastname@example.org Sincerely, Nathan Johnston University of Wollongong Law Student Society, Vice-President (Education) University of Wollongong Law Students’ Society Closure of the Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice 3
(1) http://www.uow.edu.au/law/UOW139933.html (2) http://media.uow.edu.au/news/UOW137899.html (3) http://www.uow.edu.au/student/updates/UOW133745.html (4) Ibid. (5) http://www.uow.edu.au/governance/committees/facultycommittees/UOW000359.htm l#terms (6) http://myuniversity.gov.au/University-of-Wollongong/Statistics/1058 University of Wollongong Law Students’ Society Closure of the Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice 4
Annexure One Dear LLB students, It was announced recently that the Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (the Professional Legal Training course) will have its last intake in Autumn session 2013. Our PLT course has always been highly valued. However, for many years the course has been operating at a significant deficit. After examination of various potential options it became clear that we are unable to deliver this high quality course without continuing to incur significant financial loss. The decision to end the UOW PLT course was not made lightly and had been under consideration for several years. The financial challenges facing the course have increased over the last 5 years to the point where the deficit could no longer be sustained by other programs. The vast majority of Australian Law Schools do not offer PLT courses but those that do face similar challenges as the PLT market has become increasingly competitive. Most recently, the University of Western Sydney closed its PLT course (the College of Law now offers a PLT course at UWS).
Fewer than half of our graduates undertake their PLT at UOW. Some graduates choose not to seek admission as lawyers and therefore do not undertake PLT. Others undertake PLT courses with alternate providers that better suit their circumstances or meet employer requirements. UOW is confident that the decision to end the PLT course is the most prudent course of action. As graduates you will still be able to seek admission as lawyers through completion of PLT with other providers such as the College of Law and ANU Legal Workshop which offer PLT courses in a range of formats. A number of larger law firms also provide “in house” PLT courses for their trainee lawyers.
Our focus on students and teaching quality remains paramount. We will now be better able to strengthen our primary course – the LLB. We have announced the appointment in mid-2013 of a Director of Clinical Legal Education to lead the reinvigoration of the distinctive practical experience-based components of the UOW law degree. We look forward to continued engagement with alumni and the local profession. I recently met with Mr David Potts (President of the Wollongong and District Law Society) and discussed with him our plans to enhance the skills training and practice-based learning components of the LLB. David kindly offered on behalf of the Society continued and further support for UOW Law which is greatly appreciated. I have also been delighted to receive similar pledges of support from other members of the local legal profession, including from Mr Craig Osborne and Mr Michael McGrath of RMB Lawyers.
You would also be aware that UOW is currently undergoing restructuring in line with its new strategic plan which aims to position UOW in the top 1% of universities in the world (we are currently positioned in the top 2%). The restructure includes a refreshed approach to research (focusing on addressing global challenges) and new Faculty arrangements. UOW will change to a 5-Faculty structure. The Faculty of Law will join with the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Creative Arts with the new name “Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts”. Our current Faculty of Law will become the School of Law within the new larger Faculty. It will continue to have a Dean (along with the School of Medicine) and will continue to remain a strong and cohesive unit. Professor Amanda Lawson has been appointed Executive Dean of the Faculty. 2013 and 2014 will be important years as this transition takes shape. I am confident that the new arrangements will strengthen UOW Law. Sincerely Warwick Gullett, Dean of Law 9 January 2013 University of Wollongong Law Students’ Society Closure of the Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice 5
Annexure Two Please note all results are recorded in percentages of total students surveyed. How influential was the option to incorporate your PLT into your Law degree in deciding to study at UOW? Were you disappointed by the lack of student consultation prior to the decision being made to close the PLT program at UOW? 13 25 38 50 Very Influential Somewhat Influential Not influential Not considered 20 40 60 80 Very dissappointedSomewhat dissappointed Not dissappointed University of Wollongong Law Students’ Society Closure of the Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice 6
As a result of the decision to close the PLT program at UOW, will you be considering a transfer to a different university to complete your law degree? Have you been satisfied at the information provided to students by the Faculty of Law explaining the closure of the PLT program? 10 20 30 40 Yes Unsure No 20 40 60 80 No, very unclear Unsure, still have questions Yes, very clear University of Wollongong Law Students’ Society Closure of the Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice 7
Despite assurances from the Faculty of Law that the closure of the PLT program will not adversely affect your degree, do you now have concerns about your law studies at UOW? Would you support the UOWLSS if they made a submission on behalf of law students to the University? 18 35 53 70 Yes Unsure No 23 45 68 90 Yes Unsure No University of Wollongong Law Students’ Society Closure of the Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice 8