Constructing a bright future: An international student’s perspective on Construction Law at Melbourne

After completing most of her Melbourne Law Master’s in Construction Law online during the pandemic, Kenyan international student Yvonne Getugi jumped at the opportunity to visit Australia for the first time to finish the last two months of her course, meet her lecturers in person, and explore what Melbourne has to offer.

A woman stands in front of the Melbourne Law School building

“I arrived in January, and things were really quiet because Omicron infection rates were really high at that time,” Yvonne says.

“It was quite eerie — there weren’t many people on campus and in the city. But after a while, as students started pouring in, I got talking to people, I met some of my course lecturers, and it just got better and better every day. And Melbourne as a city is just fabulous. It's so cosmopolitan.”

After studying law in the United Kingdom and beginning her career in Kenya, Yvonne decided to embark on further study abroad. She says she was drawn to Melbourne Law School’s Construction Law program due to the variety of construction subjects it had on offer and its placing as one of the top law schools in the world.

“In Kenya, I work as the in-house counsel at a government agency that oversees the construction industry in Kenya — the National Construction Authority. So, naturally, as I enjoy the work I do, I wanted to specialise in this area.

“Kenya's construction industry is smaller than Australia’s, but we're growing at such a fast pace. The course has been timely for me as I have been able to benchmark Kenya’s standing with bigger industries. When it comes to legislation and regulation, it's important to keep pushing to innovate and respond to the industry's needs.”

Yvonne says the course gave her a great overview of many different facets of the construction industry, both in Australia and globally.

“When you're in government, you take a bird's eye view on issues as you are involved in compliance, regulatory and capacity building matters. But this course was important to deepen my knowledge in the legal aspects of construction and the transactional relationships in the industry.

“For example, most disputes in the construction industry are between employers and contractors. It was important for me to understand, okay, from a regulatory point of view, how can we improve these relationships? What ways can we improve the outcome of construction project objectives?”

Challenges and opportunities

Yvonne originally intended to commence her studies in 2020, but deferred to 2021 hoping that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic would have lessened and the Australian border would be open to international students by then. Unfortunately, it wasn’t, and Yvonne took most of her classes online from Kenya, which proved challenging at times with the time zone differences between Kenya and Australia.

“Everyone had something going on — there were other students in worse time zones than mine. Even some of our lecturers had to teach at night, depending where they were around the world.”

However, she says the course design and student support offered by MLS helped to offset the initial challenges.

“I soon realised that the course was just so well structured, the library resources were expansive, getting appointments with my lecturers was easy despite the time zones, and everyone was accommodating. Everything was geared to just support you.

“Melbourne Law School offers a really interesting program in that the subjects are as varied as you could think from aspects of construction risk, international construction law matters, delay and disruption, dispute resolution, standard form contracts and procurement methods. I really struggled picking courses, I wanted to do everything.

“Some of my favourite topics included construction contract analysis and drafting, major project delivery and international construction law which expanded my perspective of the industry relationships, dispute resolution, procurement delivery methods and international standard form contracts.

“I also really enjoyed some of the elective courses. I undertook a program called International Law and Development. It has impacted how I view the construction industry from a development level, which informs what I do in construction policy. It all just worked really well.”

Yvonne says she also benefited from Melbourne Law School’s alumni mentorship program. “I enjoyed the experience and connected with an alumni, Anas Aldehishy, from Saudi Arabia. It was a great professional engagement. The Law School also has great links with the local and international construction industry. I was able to join the Society of Construction Law (Australia) and connect with industry professionals, especially Megan Calder, who is a Partner at Piper Alderman.”

The Melbourne experience

Yvonne says a definite highlight has of her time in Melbourne has been meeting her lecturers in person.

“One thing I encourage is for students to engage with the team here at Melbourne Law School as much as possible, as they are a resource unto themselves. I personally met Matthew Bell, Wayne Jocic and Owen Hayford who all have great industry contacts, great resources and are always willing to help. I enjoyed interacting with my lecturers on their industry perspectives and they were happy to learn from my experience as well.”

Another highlight has been having access to the MLS library. “Can you imagine, being able to go into the library was a big deal after doing my courses online at night!”

Meeting her fellow students on campus has also been an enriching experience. “It’s been great to meet some students who are here physically. Our course includes both legal and non-legal professionals and I have enjoyed learning more about the industry from the perspectives of engineers and lawyers.”

During her two-month visit Yvonne has also explored parts of the country and indulged in Melbourne’s culinary scene.

“People abroad don't rave enough about Australia. I love being here. I’ve been traveling to places like the Mornington Peninsula and Sydney — both really beautiful.

“I have also eaten my way around Melbourne! The Asian fusion here is amazing. I've had new cuisines for the first time, like Egyptian and Argentinian food. Melbourne’s transport system is also quite user friendly. I am grateful for the short period I was here.”

Looking to the future

When Yvonne returns to Kenya, she's looking forward to applying what she’s learned through her Masters to her role at the National Construction Authority.

“I have a deep interest in sustainability in the construction industry. So I definitely want to see what I can do in this area — in the future I want to do more advisory work in that field.”

Yvonne adds “Construction is also quite a male dominated industry. Where I work in Kenya, we are implementing policies to attract more women and youth to this field. As a result, we are now seeing more women working into the industry, establishing industry associations and rubbing shoulders on construction sites. I hope to continue to demystify the industry in more forums.”

Despite the challenges of the pandemic and studying remotely, Yvonne says overall her Melbourne Law Master’s has been an overwhelmingly positive experience.

“For sure, the Master’s has been one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. Importantly, the course is as practical as it is theoretical. I think back to how was thinking when I started, and now I'm miles away, with a completely new perspective.”