Cries of protectionism ring out as Russell Group stars are axed
Eight leading English university law faculties are up in arms after they were removed from the Singapore bar’s list of approved institutions.
The decision to drop the law schools has been lambasted as “pure protectionism” by the faculty head at one of the jilted universities.
Paul Kohler, head of law at the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University, said the decision was disappointing but not surprising.
“It is a case of blatant protectionism on the part of the Singapore law schools,” complained Kohler.
The move by the island state’s Ministry of Justice has affected a string of other leading law schools at the universities of Exeter, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Southampton.
It is understood that the dropped schools last year accounted for a third of all Singaporean law graduates in the UK — some 221 from a total of 779.
Media reports from Asia suggest the rationale behind the chop was based on supply and demand. The president of the local law society, Thio Shen Yi, was quoted on the website for Channel New Asia as saying:
“As a profession, we will only hire the right numbers that we want. It is all about economics … We are not going to hire extra lawyers just because there is an extra supply. We only hire the right amount of lawyers depending on the amount of work that we have.”
However, leaders at the affected law schools are understood to be bitter over the decision.
“A lot of Singapore students come to England,” said one experienced commentator on legal education, “and this will severely damage income generation and the reputation for English law schools relative to their competitors at Australian universities.”
One source suggested that the Singaporean authorities — who toured UK institutions a year ago — were unimpressed by the results of the National Student Survey for some of the dropped universities.
In a detailed letter to the Singapore Institute of Legal Education, Kohler wrote:
“In today’s globalised economy, students and employers require an LLB to go beyond the parochial confines of English law, and the SOAS LLB is unique in providing that global component as an intrinsic part of the degree”.
Likewise, a spokesman from the University of Exeter told Legal Cheek that the “law school continues to be professionally recognised by a number of other jurisdictions and it maintains strong professional links with law alumni throughout Asia”.
Exeter was quick to point out that it had agreed with the Singapore Ministry of Law that Singaporeans and permanent residents currently studying its LLB — and those with places beginning any time this year — remain eligible for admission to the Singapore bar on graduation.
The Singapore Law Society president held out some hope that the dropped universities could be restored in time, saying:
“As Singapore expands as a legal centre, if things like the Singapore International Commercial Court takes off, and if Singapore law becomes a choice of law for this region, then the scope of Singapore legal services will expand and we will need more lawyers.
“But the reality is that it is going to be a very competitive job market for them if they all want to become lawyers; there simply aren’t enough training contracts on offer.”
Indeed, English commentators warned the dropped law schools that it was unlikely any of them would be reinstated on the Singapore approved list within five years.
Eleven English university law schools remain approved: Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, King’s College London, the LSE, Queen Mary and Westfield London, University College London, Nottingham, Oxford and Warwick.