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NUS Law introduces new initiatives to enhance legal education and research

28 January 2014 | Education , Research
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The National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Law will be introducing new initiatives to enhance its undergraduate education and research programmes.

Undergraduates joining the law faculty in August 2014 will be the first to benefit from several changes to its curriculum, introduced as a result of the curriculum review process that the faculty had embarked on since 2012.

These advances in the curriculum complement a new push in the area of research. Later this year, NUS Law will also be launching a new Centre for Banking & Finance Law. It is also in advanced discussions with the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) to develop a Centre for Maritime Law.

Said Professor Simon Chesterman, Dean of NUS Faculty of Law: “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. Our aim, together with our faculty members, students and alumni, is to contribute towards making Singapore a global legal services centre and be an active voice in shaping how law is thought about and how it is practised.”

Key changes to the NUS law curriculum

The review of the NUS Law curriculum concludes a multi-year process led by NUS Law Dean Professor 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.

NUS Law will be making three key changes to its undergraduate curriculum:

No grading for first semester of Year One
To encourage students to explore and find a passion for the law, rather than simply focusing on grades, NUS Law will adopt a new approach to assessment that will encourage students to explore law as a calling rather than just as a subject.

The first-year curriculum will be designed as a year-long programme. Each student will take a total of six modules in Year One – four modules are year-long modules and two are semester-long modules. In the first semester, one semester-long module will be graded on a pass/fail basis. For the four year-long modules, there will be assessments in the first semester where students will receive qualitative feedback on their performance but no grades will be given. In Semester Two, students will take continual assessments and exams for these year-long modules and these will be graded. In addition, students will need to complete another semester-long module in Semester Two and this will also be graded.

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 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 students 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.

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

More opportunities for experiential learning
A third set of changes will give students more opportunities to gain practical experience, including participation in legal clinics and other modules that focus on experiential learning. This will complement the new pro bono scheme that will require all students to participate in at least 20 hours of pro bono work in their second year, while also creating opportunities for them to develop their own pro bono projects. A related change is 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.

New research initiatives

In addition to the curriculum changes, NUS Law will be ramping up its research front. In 2012, the Centre for Asian Legal Studies was launched. In 2013 this was joined by the Centre for Law & Business headed by former NUS Law Dean Professor Tan Cheng Han SC. This year, the faculty will launch two new research centres.

The Centre for Banking & Finance Law — the first of its kind in Southeast Asia — will be established in the coming months and will be headed by faculty members Associate Professor Dora Neo and Associate Professor Alexander Loke. The centre will engage local and international banks, lawyers, regulators, and academics in a regular exchange of ideas and knowledge so as to contribute towards the development of law and regulation in this area, as well as to promote a robust and stable financial sector in Singapore, the region, and globally.

Another new development is the Centre for Maritime Law, which is being developed in consultation with MPA. The centre will be headed by NUS Law Vice Dean (Research) Professor Stephen Girvin.

The two new research centres will enhance NUS Law's research expertise and networks, which also includes the Centre for International Law (a university-wide research centre) and the Asia-Pacific Centre for Environmental Law.

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