Thinking in legal educ



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45 Law Council of Australia, Rethinking Academic Requirements for Admission Discussion Paper, February 2010, .
In contrast to the heady debates of the 1980s, in some law schools at least, there has been little resistance from the academy to this prescription of content from the profession. This may be symptomatic of the financial and time pressures felt by academics within law schools. Financially, law schools have come under increased pressure since the introduction of a relative funding model by the Commonwealth Government in 1990. The funding model compares the cost of funding different disciplines in higher education and allocates funding accordingly. Law was assigned to the lowest funding band. In 1996, a differential system of student contributions was introduced to reflect the cost of providing different courses as well as the potential earning capacities of graduates. Law was included in the highest contribution band because of the potential earning capacity of graduates.

The combination of these funding and contribution reforms now mean that law students pay the highest contribution per unit of study, while law schools receive the lowest funding from the Commonwealth.46 In a submission to the Review of Higher Education Base Funding in 2011, the Council of Australian Law Deans described law schools as ‘chronically under-funded’.47 This has led to increased student−staff ratios, a higher proportion of casual staff, and increased reliance by law schools on full-fee paying students — increasing their international student and post-graduate level intakes. Margaret Thornton argues that these financial and time pressures have caused legal educators to turn their focus away from deeper philosophical questions about the mission of a law degree and how it fits within the University and society, to more prosaic and pragmatic questions of how to competently teach a standard, relatively uniform law degree.

While recognising that increased student−staff ratios, high proportions of casual staff and increases in international student intake all present significant challenges, one of the purposes of our group was to identify and apply techniques to re-engage our students in critical judgment within existing constraints. We have found that within the Priestley 11 there is significant flexibility in the content that may be taught, as topics are described with broad generality. Further, educators have broad freedom to teach more or less how they like within these content areas, including through immanent and


46 Richard Johnstone and Sumitra Vignaendra, Learning Outcomes and Curriculum Development in Law: A Report Commissioned by the Australian Universities Teaching Committee (AUTC) (Higher Education Group Department of Education, Science and Training, January 2003), 3−4.

47 Council of Australian Law Deans, Review of Higher Education Base Funding: Submission (2011) 3
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