June 10, 2006

Melbourne Uni Grad Degrees

Posted in university at 7:02 am by thelawthoughts

Much has been said about the coming changes at Melbourne Uni, where law, med and architecture are going to be offered only as post grad degrees. I think the discussion going on at Kalimna is fairly representative (and here for earlier post) and I agree with one commenter than nursing and teaching should be added to that list. Teachers who haven't studied something like literature, politics, history or higher mathematics are much less valuable than those who have done a full degree and a DipEd, in my humble opinion.

My starting point, as a current law undergraduate, is that every law and medicine student I know currently undertakes a double degree. Every single one. Medicine students must do a research year at Melbourne, which gives them a BMedSci. I did Commerce. Most of my friends do Arts. Holding all things equal, all that changes in the restructure is that students do their secondary degree first, and their primary degree second.

All this means is that people who don't know what they want to do can do an Arts or Commerce degree, thereby reestablishing those degrees as the classic first-choice liberal arts degrees. If they then want to be lawyers, they can go on at the postgrad level. People who want to be lawyers off the bat will do exactly the same thing. Nothing is lost, except reducing the number of law graduates, which in the current climate (being a grad this year and having been through the job application process) is not such a bad thing.

Under the changes, law students would only need to spend an extra year or so at university. People have been banging on about extra debt, but I think that is a bit of a furphy, on one proviso.

If Melbourne Uni were truly aiming at higher academic achievement, they would offer roughly the same proportion of HECS places as they currently do in the undergrad structure. This would mean no extra debt and in fact a reduction of debt, because students who undertake the law degree but do not practice are currently forced to pay back that degree. Students who get to the end of an undergrad degree and decide to be, say, a publisher, will not waste that extra three years.

My main argument with Harry Clarke's piece is his assertion that 'some bright students who know initially what they want to do will switch to dedicated undergraduate programs at other universities.' In my experience, plenty of people, including myself, know they want to be lawyers or doctors out of high school. Given we all do doubles, I cannot think of a single person I know who would have gone to a different institution because they could do law straight up, without having to do an Arts degree first. 

In the end, people often need to learn how to study, and giving these students the time to do this through an Arts or Commerce degree before tackling law can only lead to an increase in the quality of student work in the later law degree. Once students have the skills, they can tackle law in a much more meaningful way and Melbourne law graduates will be more sought after than they are now.



  1. hc said,

    Are there no straight law students? That surprises me. My daughter doing Commerce/Law at Melbourne confirms what you are saying is true. It’s a good point them. Also means that, with respect to Law, the big change might not change things much.

  2. There are straight law students, but the way the degree is structured discourages them. The straight degree is four years, when most combined degrees are five. This is because straight law students can only do 4 subjects in their first 2 years (a full one semester load), and must fill the rest out with subjects from any other faculty. So, one is able to do astronomy, beginners latin and accounting 101 if they choose. Most don’t bother, and just do a straight degree.

    The big change is the fee structure. If they go with more full fee places, then that will change the demographic, as well as the structure. If they offer mostly HECS, they will keep the degree much the same as it is now.

    Congrats, by the way, on being the first commenter in the new location!

  3. Tanya said,

    QUT has a straight law program. It’s four years. I’ve always thought it to be a truly terrible idea, though I can see why it’s appealing to some students – it’s cheap. QUT grads get jobs but I wonder what happens when they have to handle tougher cases that require broader knowledge and more creative thinking / arguing. I also wonder if QUT takes a higher proportion of people who already have an undergrad degree … which would mean that institutions that take Law to the grad level would provide competition to QUT and force the development of an equivalent grad program.

  4. That is a really interesting point, because I have always thought that a Melbourne postgrad Law degree’s enrolment would consist of all its own undergrad kids, plus a sprinkling of the best undergrads from all over the country, who maybe didn’t get in first time.

    It means that people (like me incidentally) who have no idea what they are doing when they get to uni have time to discover new skills before studying the law, which often is their career goal.

    Re QUT, I think a school like Deakin is similar in Melbourne. Despite being the Mirko Bagaric Torture is Ok School of Law, Deakin run a very practical course, with subjects like ‘Company Directors’ and ‘Business Organisations’, as well as ‘Criminal Procedure’. Now, I am doing Corps this semester and had three weeks about Directors’ Duties, and have never done Criminal Procedure. The result is that when we go against Deakin kids for some jobs, which require this kind of knowledge, they get those jobs.

    However, if you go through the lists of judges and QCs, most of them are Melbourne and Monash people. Deakin has done an amazing job of providing its best kids with good careers, however I think a Melbourne postgrad law degree has the potential to suck away a lot of the best kids from Monash/Deakin/La Trobe Arts and Commerce courses. QUT is just another institution that has to compete if they are taking postgrad kids in.

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