University of Geneva Legal Studies reform

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1 University of Geneva Legal Studies reform Feedback from Leiden Law School, the Netherlands Our feedback has been composed on the basis of the provided documentation in the form of the report of the commission, the study plan and to a limited extent the document with rules and regulations. We comment on the programmes only on the basis of this limited viewpoint, which, combined with our unfamiliarity with the Swiss Higher Education system, enables us to comment only with due reservations. It may well be the case that some of the issues we identify have been addressed otherwise, or are perhaps based on erroneous assumptions. I. Procédure We gather from the documentation that the evaluation process of the reforms that have taken place in the Geneva Law curriculum have included an examination of programme statistics (student intake; exam results); a detailed questionnaire completed by various levels of programme staff, and interviews with groups of students, research and teaching staff within the faculty. Additionally, two external experts have been asked to comment on the evaluation report and appendices. Whilst the above mentioned groups of people are undoubtedly crucial for any analysis of programme outcomes and reform, a further step in the analysis could perhaps include the views of graduates (alumni) of the various programmes, as well as law firms, government agencies and other practitioners, which could offer insights into the relevance and value of the degree programmes for the types of careers for which students are educated. A benchmarking exercise comparing the Geneva programmes to other law degrees both within and outside Switzerland would offer additional insight regarding the quality and value of the Geneva degrees. Other than the views of the two external experts, the focus of the evaluation has remained within the organisation. II. Le baccalauréat universitaire en droit 1. Generalités It is good to see that the selection of students (for their further bachelor as well as master studies i.e. is no further selection applied to enter the LLM part of the programme?) at the beginning of their bachelor programme works well. Indeed it seems obvious that such an early selection is preferred for the success of students in the further years of study. 2. La charge du travail et la structure du programme We are very impressed with the well-structured presentation of the Plan d études Horaire des cours. Any coherent and timely organisation of a complex timetable of degree programmes, offering a clear overview of mandatory and optional courses per degree programme, is a significant challenge which your

2 faculty appears to have managed successfully. The courses that are offered as part of the (mandatory) course load are very comparable to the course offerings in the Leiden bachelor programmes. Together with the large variety of optional courses on offer this presents a very broad curriculum, with a lot of options for students to choose from. What was not entirely clear to us, from the Study Plan, is how many mandatory vs. optional students are expected to follow. One point of difference we noted is that in Geneva the Moot Court course is offered as optional. In the Leiden bachelor programme the Moot Court is mandatory; all bachelor students are required to have Moot Court experience as part of their legal studies career. Whilst we cannot comment on the study and work load for students or staff, of course the approach to maintain a varied as well as balanced programme and workload is a sensible one. It would be interesting to include in this paragraph a short statement on the students and staff s own views regarding programme and structure, just to strengthen this conclusion. The remark about the not preferred option of going back to basics and this not comparing well to other law faculties begs the question of whether in the course of the review process a benchmarking exercise has been carried out. Such an exercise could then provide more solid argumentation for the chosen path. 3. Les examens et les crédits The choice between a reduction of the number of exams (according to the wishes of teaching staff) as opposed to maintaining the current number of exams (according to the wishes of students not to be too dependent on fewer grades for their end result) has been made in favour of the students. This choice seems to be a sensible one, although we cannot provide detailed insight on this issue. From the documentation it is not clear whether, apart from the mode of the final assessment of the course, students undergo some other form of (skills) assessment during a course, e.g. through additional written work, presentations, etcetera. Regarding the allocation of credits, we seem to conclude from this paragraph (although our basic level of French may have led us astray here) that there is no direct correlation between the course/workload of any particular course and the number of credits awarded for it, as the credits are awarded per block of courses. Is there no weighted grading as such? where larger and more important courses count more substantially towards the final grade for the year or the degree. If all courses are pretty much comparable in terms of their requirements, and importance this would not be much of an issue. However, it seems that in the first series of courses the workload per course is much higher (up to 10 ECTS per course); and therefore if there is to be an overall grade average given for the

3 degree it would seem logical that more intensive (and/or more important) courses would count more heavily towards the overall result; as would, presumably, any final paper or thesis that may be required. 4. Le système des séances de travail Given the opposing views the commission is facing the proposed pilot project seems a good idea. Just a small note for comparison, at the Leiden Law School we do use a system of courses consisting of lectures by more senior professors, complemented by seminars with more junior teaching staff/phd candidates; mainly for the larger core courses. Additionally, many of our LLM courses offer (integral guest) lectures by legal practitioners for instance from the international legal institutions in The Hague or elsewhere, depending on the subject area of the programme. Geneva, as the second UN city, would offer such a logical connection to (international) legal practice also. The course structure at Leiden works well, provided there is a strong interaction between the core professor and other teaching staff and the course has one main coordinator. 5. Les conditions de réussite du baccalauréat Here the issue of the credits given per block of courses allowing students to pass with only marginal or low average grades, is coming up again. It appears that the commission is seeking to address this issue and making the pass requirements more stringent which we would endorse. 6. Le BARI No comments III. Les maîtrises 1. Généralités The questions posed are the appropriate questions to ask. One further question would be whether the LLM programmes offer a smooth and quality transition to the professional arena of the particular subject path. As indicated earlier, inviting the views of alumni and current employers would offer such insight. 2. La structure en 5 maîtrises Whether the LLM programmes are offered in the form of five different degree programmes or five specialisations of one and the same LLM programme, probably does not make much difference. At Leiden, we offer seven specialisations within one general Master of Laws degree, but to the outside world they are effectively presented as distinct programmes, exactly for the reasons of clarity and variation of choice you mention and wish to preserve. Provided the organisation remains streamlined (a

4 combined and simple review structure rather than five separate processes, as you indicate), we would assert that five distinct masters are not any more cumbersome than one programme with multiple tracks. We therefore agree that on those grounds a new structure would not be desirable. 3. La question de la maîtrise en droit de l action publique It appears clear that the quality of this particular programme is certainly not in question, but that the low attendance appears merely a popularity issue. It is mentioned that LLM programmes in public (action) law are a common feature at Swiss universities. Do the programmes at the other Swiss universities experience similar low student numbers? And how do the curricula compare? It seems some further research into comparable programmes both in and outside Switzerland would be useful before taking any decisions on the continuation or discontinuation of the programme. Similarly, a change in the courses offered or even just the title of the programme would require some more (market) research. We would like to mention here that at the Leiden Law School we also experienced that a change of title and focus of one of our LLM programmes (which was renamed European and International Business Law instead of only European Business Law) resulted in a significant increase in numbers of applications, and students. Although the authors of this report cannot claim to be experts in the area, it would seem that the curriculum of the MDAP programme might benefit from an additional, or perhaps more prominent than how it is currently presented, focus on contemporary issues in the (international) public arena such as international security and terrorism, sustainable governance/development issues and human rights. It appears from the list of courses that these are included in the curriculum already. A change to a more appealing title may therefore well lead to the desired higher student numbers. By comparison, our two (!) LLM programmes in Public International Law, which include some of the same components as the MDAP programme are our two most popular LLM degrees for which we receive around 500 applications per year. The attractiveness of The Hague as the seat of international legal institutions features heavily in this popularity. Of course for Geneva a comparable attractiveness and unique selling point exists. 4. Les maîtrises sont-elles trop légères? The structure and distribution of credits seem clearly organised and certainly the number of courses would not appear an issue. 90 ECTS credits would constitute well over an academic year (three semesters) and is 30 ECTS more than the 60 ECTS required for an LLM degree in the Netherlands. The information in the report does not provide us with sufficient knowledge to comment on the academic level of teaching in the master s courses, however. NB At Leiden 5 ECTS is equivalent to 20 hours of teaching, at both the bachelor s and master s level. 5. La question des séminaires

5 Coming from a system where a full LLM takes up one academic year, and within that the thesis tends to be written over the summer months, the allocated time for writing a thesis of one semester seems ample. We do not quite see how the flexibility of study abroad would not be impacted if the course would last a full academic year rather than a semester. It appears from our (limited) external viewpoint that year-long rather than semester-long courses would discourage student mobility. In our view spreading out the thesis over a full academic year would not necessarily lead to a higher quality of academic work. We do support the notion of an accompanying seminar along with the writing of the thesis enabling a well structured and methodological approach to the writing of the thesis. 6. Les conditions de réussite de la maîtrise We support all three points made in this paragraph. NB In the Netherlands the higher education structure also allows for some shopping around for good grades, for example through grades obtained during an exchange programme abroad. In our (Advanced) LLM programmes we do not allow such flexibility, however. Students need to pass 100% of the courses of the degree, and, after failing a second retake of one single course only, are allowed, subject to the permission of the programme director, to substitute that particular course with an equivalent course from another programme. Courses described as core courses for the degree cannot be substituted but have to be passed. 7. Questions diverses a. Faut-il des cours de méthode en maîtrise? We concur with the view of the commission here. Perhaps foreign students who lack a sufficient methodological background could be offered the opportunity (or be required) to follow a methodology course at bachelor s level. In the Netherlands methodology courses are not (yet) a standard part of the bachelor curriculum, but are increasingly being introduced as a core requirement. b. Faut-il prévoir plus de flexibilité horaire pour les enseignements? We agree with the vision of the commission here. c. Faut-il permettre, voire encourager, une plus grande flexibilité dans les modes d évaluation des étudiants? In the Netherlands a comparable flexibility of assessment methods exists. As long as there are proper checks and balances on the teaching and assessment model this would not pose any significant problems. We would be interested to know, but couldn t make out from the given information, whether for the examinations at Geneva, in particular the oral examinations, two assessors are required as in the Dutch system.

6 d. Faut-il introduire un test de français pour les étudiants de mobilité? At the bachelor level, at which our Leiden programmes receive the vast majority of our international exchange students, we do not require any formal English test result, although we do include in our bilateral exchange agreements a statement that any foreign candidates level of English needs to be equivalent to a particular IELTS/TOEFL standard. Any exchange students wishing to participate in master level courses however, must submit a full master s degree application, which includes an official English level test result. While the requirement of a formal language test result is arguably - against the spirit of the exchange agreements, it is also recognised that an insufficient level of the programme language has detrimental consequences for both the affected student and others participating in the course. Longstanding exchange partners should of course be able to trust one another to carry out a decent selection of students on each side. Should this fail to be the case often a friendly reminder of the exchange partner helps address any future problems. 8. Coordination d autres diplômes avec les maitrises a. L Ecole d avocature Of course the distinction between the university degree and any ensuing professional training by the Ecole d avocature is clear. The three semesters of the LLM programmes, which we presume would mean students would normally graduate by the end of the Autumn Semester (if they started the programme the Autumn before) do mean that there is a logical connection, incurring no loss of time, to the start of their professional training. b. Le CDT No comments. c. Les maîtrises post-bologne We recognise the view of the majority of the commission that the post-bologna masters (Advanced Studies programmes) would pose no threat of devaluing the masters programmes that are discussed in this report. At Leiden, where we have a similar structure of a newly introduced bachelor-master system, and the continuation of previously existing, separate, LL.M. programmes - which have also been renamed Master of Advanced Studies programmes. At Leiden there is continued discussion however on how to define these Advanced Studies programmes as distinct from the regular master s programmes, and how to present any such differences in level of teaching, i.e. the advanced notion of these Advanced Studies programmes, in the accreditation process. We would be interested to know whether this is also an item of

7 discussion in the Swiss context of accreditation and quality assurance; although this would fall outside of the scope of the current report. Leiden, January 2011

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