Up to 1500 students enrol in the first year of a law degree at Auckland University’s Law School. For the past 10 years Auckland has admitted up to 330 students into second year law, but this year it has increased the number by 50, to 380 students. The Law School says it may consider a further increase.
LawTalk asked Auckland Law School Dean, Professor Andrew Stockley, why student numbers are being increased, and the benefits and challenges of this.
Why has Auckland decided to increase the number of second year law students?
This will allow more very good students the opportunity to study law at Auckland. Auckland’s population has significantly increased but the Law School has not increased its second year numbers in the last 10 years.
Only accepting 330 of our 1500 first year law students into second year has meant that it is much more difficult for high-achieving school leavers to study law at Auckland than at any other New Zealand law school. There is evidence from school leaver reports that some very good students have to leave the region to enhance their chances of getting into law school.
This has an impact on equity of access. Mobile school-leavers tend to be more affluent and this impacts disproportionately on Māori and Pacific students.
How does this compare with other law schools?
Other New Zealand law schools have been expanding while Auckland has remained static. For example, Victoria University has recently increased its second year law intake to 300 students and has proposed increasing this to 330. If Auckland stayed the same, Victoria would have as many undergraduate law students despite being a vastly smaller university serving a much smaller city.
This number of students is not unusual in the top Australian law schools. The Australian National University Law School admitted 500 new law students in 2016. The University of New South Wales Law School admits 600 to 650 new students each year.
With more students, will the number of staff increase?
The University is giving us the resources to appoint more student advisers and more academic staff. We will be able to make more senior as well as junior Faculty hires. This will give us a larger research footprint, which is critical for increased international attention, impact and rankings.
Auckland is uniquely placed among the New Zealand law schools to achieve the scale and impact of the very best Australian law schools. We are the only New Zealand law school ranked among the top 50 law schools in the world. But we have significantly fewer academic staff than the top Australian law schools.
Growing the Law School in a careful, considered way will enable us to compete more effectively without compromising the quality of our students or the teaching and learning experience they receive. Having more staff as well as students means that class sizes need not be affected, while giving us the opportunity to rethink the teaching models we use and what works best for today’s students.
Hiring on this scale can seek to be transformational. I am committed to maintaining the high calibre of recent appointments and to attracting more overseas hires. More staff will help ensure that the Auckland Law School remains a truly comprehensive law school, with strength in all major areas of the law and the ability to have a major impact on legal and policy debates. This is to New Zealand’s benefit.
We will also be able to employ more student advisers and to provide more administrative support for our co-curricular programmes, such as mooting and community placements, and for the new student well-being initiatives we have introduced.
With an increase in numbers, will the calibre of students be compromised?
The grade point average of students being admitted into second year law for 2017 has slightly increased over 2016, despite our taking an additional 50 students. More good students seem to apply for places if they think there is a better chance of being admitted.
Even if we took 500 second year students – and we are only increasing to 380 students at present – the Auckland Law School would still be taking a lower proportion of its first year students into second year law than all other New Zealand law schools. We would still have a higher admission standard than anywhere else in the country.
Will the number of Māori and Pacific students be affected?
Increasing the second year intake also allows for more places under our Targeted Admissions Scheme. The Auckland Law School recognises that some students faced barriers in their previous education and admits some Māori and Pacific students, and some students with disabilities, from refugee and low socio-economic backgrounds, and facing particular hardship, to second year law on a lower grade point average. These students comprise about 15% of the cohort and receive additional support and mentoring. They have gone on to very successful careers in the law and other areas.
As a result of the increase in student numbers, I have said that, rather than have a fixed quota of places, any Māori student who meets the minimum requirement for second year law under the Targeted Admissions Scheme will be able to be admitted.
We can also do a lot more for our Pacific students. The number of Pacific students admitted under the Targeted Admissions Scheme had not been increased since 1993, despite a significant increase in the Pacific population in Auckland. We have now been able to double the number of Pacific students. For 2017 there will be 30 Māori students and 33 Pacific students admitted into second year law (some under general admission and some under the Targeted Admissions Scheme).
The increased resources being allocated to the Law School means more Māori and Pacific students can be assisted to succeed.
Will the Auckland Law School have enough space for the new academic staff and the increased number of students?
The total space allocated to the Law School is being increased by a third, providing more study, common room and office space. This will give us a lot of flexibility for the next few years.
In addition, it has just been announced that the Law School will move to the central campus in about five years. This is an exciting development as the Law School’s new home will be Old Government House and the northern part of the Thomas Building, adjacent to it. The Law School will be occupying a landmark heritage building and, together with the complete refurbishment of the Thomas Building, will have the classrooms, offices and common spaces befitting a leading law school.
Will there be enough jobs for more law students?
Auckland Law School graduates do extremely well as lawyers in New Zealand and overseas and become leaders in government, business and a wide variety of other sectors, and I have no doubt that this will continue. Entry to second year law will still be the most competitive in the country. We will continue to provide an outstanding teaching and learning experience, with the largest number of electives of any New Zealand LLB, an intensive small group legal writing, research and communication programme, and an extensive mooting, community placement, and co-curricular programme.
The increase in student numbers will give us the staff and resources to establish a much more substantial careers mentoring programme, as occurs in many North American law schools. This is already needed and the increase in student numbers will give us the staff and resources to make it happen. We need to do more to inform students of the career pathways pursued by our graduates, including how they can do well in small firms, outside of Auckland, overseas, and in other sectors.
We aim to produce outstanding lawyers who can work directly in the law and in all sorts of other fields. Ninety percent of our law graduates take conjoint degrees and many of these are interested in and find good employment outside of the law but with the benefit of the analysis, writing, and reasoning skills their law degree has taught them. Our most recent student president is working for Google; another is with a consulting firm. There is an enormous advantage to society in having law graduates who sit in Cabinet, head major banks and business, and are chief executives of city councils, health boards, and transport authorities.
It is a fallacy to believe that the number of graduates from a professional school should be determined by the number of current vacancies in that profession. This is so particularly for law where graduates have many other options available to them.
How difficult is growing the Law School in this way?
This is not a large increase compared with what has happened in other faculties and in other law schools. But there are challenges and difficulties in growing any institution. There will be some problems and practical difficulties getting from where we are now to where will be in five or six years’ time- with more students, new staff, new buildings, and more resources. My job as Dean is to cope with this and to highlight that there are opportunities and benefits as well as challenges. Auckland can be an even stronger and better law school.
Professor Andrew Stockley, Auckland Law School Dean.