Global Partnerships

Melbourne and Oxford offer combined degrees

Late last year Melbourne Law School announced three new combined degree programs with Oxford University, New York university and Chinese university of Hong Kong. These programs give Melbourne Juris Doctor (JD) students unprecedented access to some of the most prestigious law qualifications in the world.

In coming editions we will examine each of these new partnerships. This time we explore Melbourne Law School's longstanding connection with Oxford University and the combined Melbourne Juris Doctor/Oxford Bachelor of Civil Law (JD/BCL) program.

For those who love the law, Oxford University stands tall among its peers. Since the twelfth century it has made and remade itself as the centre of the common law world. With its medieval colleges and dreaming spires, and an alumni list that reads as a veritable Who's Who of leaders and thinkers across the last 800 years, Oxford is utterly impressive.

Today the Faculty of Law at Oxford is the largest law school in the United Kingdom. It exists as a federation of thirty law centres in colleges across the University. The colleges' legal scholars are members of the Faculty, which encompasses the research and teaching of over 150 academics – half of whom are from outside the UK.

All of this makes it easy then to understand why so many academics and students from Melbourne Law School have made, and continue to make, the pilgrimage to Oxford. Over time, Oxford has offered countless opportunities to learn from leading international academics and students, to engage in new debate, and work to discover something  amazing. These experiences have been brought back to Melbourne and woven into the rich fabric of our Law School.

In fact, it was after seeing the benefits of full-time academic staff at Oxford, that former Dean Sir Zelman Cowen returned to Melbourne and established the Chair of Commercial Law, the first time an academic position had been funded by business and the legal profession.

Furthermore, many Oxford academics have visited Melbourne to provide specialist lectures and undertake collaborative research. For students, exposure to these leading international experts has regularly been a source of inspiration and learning.

For Melbourne Laureate Professor Cheryl Saunders AO (LLB (Hons)1967, PhD Law 1976), spending the first six months of last year as a Fellow  of Corpus Christi College proved invaluable. Primarily engaged in writing a book, Professor Saunders was also affiliated with the Law Faculty under the Melbourne Oxford exchange arrangements. In this capacity, she was the international supervisor for  a "Pro Bono Publico" project, which made a submission to the Australian National Consultation on Human Rights, drawing on the United Kingdom experience with the Human Rights Act.

During her term at Oxford, Professor Saunders also delivered the keynote address to a graduate student forum, participated in conferences in Edinburgh, Brussels, Madrid, Jaen, Cape Town and Addis Ababa and attended a meeting  of the Advisory Board of International IDEA, of which she is a member.

"I particularly enjoyed the cross- disciplinary discussion that stemmed from the college system at Oxford. Here, at the Law School, we work closely with our legal colleagues, but have much less contact with colleagues in other faculties. At Oxford interdisciplinary discussion occurs in the colleges all the time." Associate Professor Caron Beaton- Wells (LLB(Hons)1993, LLM 1997,PhD Law 2002) expressed similar sentiments, saying her three months as a visiting fellow at St John's College and the Centre for Competition Law and Policy at Oxford last year left "an indelible impression".

During her visit, Associate Professor Beaton-Wells was principally engaged in comparative research of cartel criminalisation in the UK and Australia.

She interviewed members of the British government, the business sector, the legal profession, consumer groups and the media. She also co-hosted a roundtable on criminalisation that involved scholars from Europe and Australia. The papers from the roundtable will be published later this year.

"During my time at Oxford I built an invaluable network of academic and professional contacts in UK competition law and saw how our research (at Melbourne Law School) is on par with and respected by our Oxford counterparts," said Associate Professor Beaton-Wells.

Students too seek to experience the opportunities offered at Oxford. For many, the interaction has a lasting impact on their careers and lives.

After completing his studies at Melbourne in 1969, Allan Myers AO QC (LLB(Hons) 1970) travelled to Oxford to complete his BCL in 1971. The ties he established between the two universities gave Mr Myers the idea to start and to fund student and academic exchanges between Melbourne and Oxford. Now the Myers scholarships provide the opportunity for several students to study at Oxford each year and are the foundation upon which other ties between the two law schools have been built.

One student who has already benefited is Dominic Nguyen, who received a Myers scholarship to Oxford last year. "The Myers scholarship meant that I could go to Oxford. I learnt so much, but I also saw how highly regarded Melbourne was. As soon as I said that I had come from Melbourne Law School, people were immediately attentive and interested."

While the warmth and the opportunities afforded to Melbourne academics and students are heartening, there are more telling aspects to the depth and enduring nature of Oxford's relationship with Melbourne. Late last year, the institutions came together to form a partnership which resulted in the combined JD/BCL program.

This is a unique arrangement with an Australian law school and recognises the Melbourne Juris Doctor as an outstanding law degree.

Professor Michael Crommelin AO, Dean of Melbourne Law School, sees the combined program as largely attributable to Melbourne's longstanding connection with Oxford. "Melbourne and Oxford share an unstinting commitment to quality and excellence – in all aspects of legal research and education," said  Professor  Crommelin.

"We are the beneficiaries of an enduring connection that reaches back many years. This connection is the product of a history of exchange and the achievements of many faculty and students, who have created a remarkable level of goodwill and mutual respect on which we can now build new programs such as the combined JD/BCL," said Professor Crommelin.

This September Nick Elias will be the first Melbourne JD student to embark on studies in the Oxford BCL component of the combined degree program. Professor Saunders sees this as a wonderful new chapter in the connection between the two institutions.

"Nick represents the next generation of connection between Oxford and Melbourne. He will be a fine representative of Melbourne and will illustrate the remarkable capacity of our students," said Professor Saunders.

Recognised as the most highly esteemed graduate law degree in the common law world, the BCL is (for many law students) the glittering prize often beyond reach. For Melbourne JD students, the BCL is now closer to being within their grasp.

The combined JD/BCL has been specifically designed to satisfy key individual program requirements, while also facilitating the transition of students from the JD to the BCL component of the program. For instance, the JD/BCL program is a seven-semester program, taken over three and a half years. Normal application to the BCL can only be made upon the successful completion of a law degree.

However, as part of the combined program, Melbourne JD students have the opportunity to apply for the BCL after the completion of two years of study in the JD. Entry into the BCL component of the program is still assessed by Oxford, and is highly competitive and merit-based. If a JD student is accepted into the BCL component, they complete their JD studies before travelling to Oxford after five semesters in the JD.

"The development and introduction of the Melbourne JD has played an instrumental part in creating the JD/ BCL program. Without a graduate law program, we would not have been able to link our programs with graduate programs, such as the BCL at Oxford," said Professor Crommelin.

In myriad ways, this combined program is the result of fusion between the old and the new. While the enduring connection between Melbourne and Oxford provided a platform for partnership, the graduate law JD provided a graduate program on which to attach other international graduate law programs.

For Melbourne Law School, the JD/BCL and the other combined programs it offers in conjunction with NYU and Chinese University of Hong Kong mark a significant stage in the development of global outreach.

In the words of George Washington "Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation."

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 3, May 2010.