The following is a personal opinion of Sujatha Selvakumar, 30, working in the legal profession. The following opinions are hers and hers alone and does not represent the opinion of any organization.
[Caveat: Any comparisons drawn are purely for discussion and no offence is intended, I do not subscribe to the idea that one’s law school makes one a better legal practitioner or person. The practice of law is a lifelong love affair.]
It has been a disturbing couple of days as various opinions have been shared over the axing of 8 British Law Schools from the Overseas Scheduled Universities because there has been a glut and perhaps an oversupply of lawyers.
This idea is incoherent and counter intuitive given that SMU is looking to increase its intake from 120 to 180 students over 3 years, there will be a 3rd law school (SIM) with alleged mid-career practitioners with a keen interest in community law with no lock down mechanism on their practicing community law to date.
Further since 2010/2011, we have opened up the legal sector through a series of schemes such as Qualified Law Practice Schemes, which has seen a sharp increase in foreign lawyers flowing into Singapore (from 633 in 2007 to 1258 in 2012, July).
All these increases in supply were considered in the first place to arrest the attrition of lawyers that happens between years 2 to 5 of being in practice and to elevate Singapore as a legal Hub.
I wonder what happened to that vision?
What is even more incredulous is the comments on standards of these law schools. To highlight one such comment by NUS Law Dean (Quoted from Straits Times/26 Feb 215) “But these eight schools are also among the lower-ranked law schools in Britain and their graduates are often the ones who find it harder to get jobs”, said NUS law dean Simon Chesterman. “The message to parents and students is that instead of spending tens of thousands of pounds on a law education at a lower-ranked school, they could be better off pursuing other degrees locally.”
Firstly, if they were lower ranked and not up to the mark, why endorse these universities in the first place and thus misleading Singaporeans?
Then, the Times and Guardian UK University Rankings were used. These rankings have been known to experience wild fluctuations, given the heavy weight on student satisfaction i.e. as a colleague candidly mentioned Kings College London can be No. 12 one year and No. 4 the next.
That aside, there is this presumption that a 1st Class Hons student say from Southampton is not quite as good as 2:2 from NUS/SMU.
Whilst evaluating overseas universities, Australian universities were conveniently not considered since Singapore has a Free Trade Agreement with Australia. Despite the fact universities like Flinders University (Australia) do not even feature in the QS World University Rankings by Subject (Law), SMU is ranked in the region of 101-150 and university like Manchester which has been axed is ranked higher between 51-100.
All I can say is a little bit of competition never hurt someone and we do not need to be protectionist of local vs foreign graduates, we are all Singaporeans and deserve a fair shot. Given that we continue to suffer from an attrition that has not been arrested, this exercise might just be a waste and the only by product being misunderstanding and grief.
(Editor: The axing of schools seems more like an arbitrary decision. In legal terms, this could arguably amount to an act that is ultres vires. The very thing the rule of law seeks to stem.)
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