NUS News

New initiatives to enhance legal education and research at NUS

The first curriculum review in a decade, conducted by the NUS Faculty of Law, has sparked off several major initiatives to enhance its undergraduate education and research programmes.

Key changes in the pipeline include no grading for the first semester of Year One, new modules offering greater exposure to civil law, and more opportunities for experiential learning. In addition to these curriculum changes, NUS Law is making bold moves to further the most ambitious research agenda in its history.

“As Singapore aspires to be a global legal services centre, a dispute resolution centre for Asia and a major hub for the world, we need to have good institutions, good laws and good law firms. But we also need to have ideas; we need to be a thought leader. We need to change not just the way that the law is practised, but the way we think about the law. So in consultation with many stakeholders, including the Ministry of Law, we are in the middle of launching a series of new research centres,” said NUS Law Dean Professor Simon Chesterman.

In 2012, the faculty launched the Centre for Asian Legal Studies which, among other things, has done path-breaking work on the opening up of Myanmar. In 2013, it launched the Centre for Law & Business, which has a series of projects looking at the role law can play in facilitating the business aspirations of Singapore as an economic hub. This year, NUS Law will launch two new research centres.

The Centre for Banking & Finance Law, to be led by faculty members Associate Professor Dora Neo and Associate Professor Alexander Loke, will be the first of its kind in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, NUS Law is also in advanced discussions with the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore to develop a Centre for Maritime Law, which will be helmed by NUS Law Vice Dean (Research) Professor Stephen Girvin.

These two centres will focus on areas in which Singapore has both a strategic interest and a comparative advantage, said Prof Chesterman. They will further enhance NUS Law’s research expertise and networks, which include the Centre for International Law (a university-level research centre) and the Asia-Pacific Centre for Environmental Law.

On the new push in research as well as the curriculum changes, Prof Chesterman said:  “The past decade has seen a transformation in Singapore's legal landscape. NUS Law has a strong curriculum and produces graduates who are highly sought after by law firms in Singapore and overseas. To continue to produce high quality graduates, to meet the needs of our students and the demands of the evolving legal landscape, we need to continually innovate and enhance our teaching approaches and expand our research expertise.”

The new approach to assessment, which allows all freshmen to enjoy a grade-free first semester, will ease their attention on acing exams and encourage them to develop a passion for law as a calling.

In Year One, each student will take a total of six modules—four are year-long and two are semester-long, one of which will be offered in the first semester and graded on a pass/fail basis. The other will be taken in the second semester and will be graded along with the four year-long modules. For the latter, there will be assessments in the first semester, where students will receive qualitative feedback on their performance but no grades will be given.

For greater exposure to civil law, all first-year undergraduates at NUS Law will be required to take a new “Singapore Law in Context” module, where they will be introduced to the Singapore legal system and its regional counterparts. The module may be complemented by field trips to the court, a prison, and/or parliament. It would also include an examination of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in Singapore and an introduction to professional ethics.

In the second year, students will take a new module, “Legal Systems of Asia”, which introduces them to some of the most important legal systems in the world such as the Islamic law, Chinese law, the law of Southeast Asian jurisdictions and transnational law.

As part of their electives, students will also be required to choose at least one module from a cluster of advanced civil law subjects.

Another set of changes, which will give them more opportunities to gain practical experience, includes participation in legal clinics and other modules that focus on experiential learning. This will complement the new pro bono scheme that requires all students to participate in at least 20 hours of pro bono work in their second year, while creating opportunities for them to develop their own pro bono projects. The faculty will also adopt a new approach to teaching professional ethics, which will integrate additional opportunities to learn and reflect on issues of legal ethics.

These and other curriculum changes will be implemented progressively, beginning with the next intake of students in August 2014.

The review of the NUS Law curriculum concludes a multi-year process led by Prof Chesterman and NUS Law Vice Dean (Academic Affairs) Professor Ng-Loy Wee Loon. The curriculum review committee had considered feedback on a discussion paper circulated in November 2012, which included comments from faculty, current and past students, and other stakeholders such as the faculty’s Advisory Council. In addition, the NUS Law Club conducted a survey that obtained quantitative and qualitative responses from more than 100 current students.