Issue 6, Volume 17
NB: I write this to the Dean of MLS, Pip Nicholson, in the hope that she will respond.
Dear Pip Nicholson,
For fear of sounding like just another aggrieved and disappointed JD student adapting to this anxious time, I will be brief. I understand this is an entirely unprecedented situation and I appreciate the immense and commendable effort that MLS has put into the transition to a virtual campus.
My concern, however, and that of many of my peers, is that this transition – although necessary – is understandably causing many full-fee paying/bursary students to question the value of what they are now paying for.
Firstly, the Melbourne JD is a difficult course at the best of times, but what makes it worthwhile are the special qualities of the renowned ‘JD Model’ i.e. the ability for students to engage in robust face-to-face class discussion with their tutors and peers, and access to the first-class amenities and facilities (library services, study spaces, in-person consultations etc) that MLS provides, along with a brilliant array of extra-curricular activities.
Students do not have access to these anymore. The pre-crisis JD Model, the nature of the degree and the way it was structured, has fundamentally altered. While we appreciate the enduring support and diligence of our professors in preparing recorded lessons, this style of teaching has arguably diminished many students’ motivation and passion to study law this semester. Put simply, there is a strong sentiment amongst many that they are receiving much less out of this semester for the same not-insignificant price.
Studying in isolation, away from the support of peers and tutors and MLS facilities is arduous enough in this state of flux, without the further crippling dread of being saddled with an $100k + debt in a very diminished job market.
Can MLS justify charging full-fee rates during the period of this crisis, given that the JD that many signed up for has fundamentally altered?
A second year JD student
Professor Nicholson sent De Minimis this response to the above, dated 06/04/2020:
Thank you to the De Minimis editors who approached me for comment on this letter. Thank you also for their grace in giving me extra time to respond. This thoughtfulness is deeply appreciated.
The letter reiterates matters we have been discussing with your student leaders. They are doing further work, which will assist MLS to better understand the extent of financial distress among JD students. And I encourage all MLS students to continue sharing your experiences with your student leaders.
The University of Melbourne decided not to change tuition fees after much consideration. The University has implemented a large-scale exercise to transfer teaching, learning, assessment and student support into virtual formats. The University has also introduced a new COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund for students who have experienced financial hardship as a result of COVID-19.
While we have shifted to a virtual campus, the high standards and unique approach of MLS remain at the heart of everything we do. Our traditional limit on class size; our determination to have an engaged campus community; our emphasis on the school's integration with the city’s legal establishments, through contributions to class and subjects by practitioners and experts – these factors are amongst those which have made this law school the special place it is. And it is these traditions and principles which continue to inform our work.
The culture of MLS, in both staff and students, has meant that we had a very special set of human talents to call upon in this period. As the author eloquently states, your school's professional and academic staff have gone above and beyond their usual tasks and working hours to set up work from home and virtual classrooms. Together, we have worked on: harnessing technology to continue our face-to-face teaching; adjusting assessment; maintaining accreditation (in Victoria and globally); adjusting with employers the time table for clerkships; providing digital access to library texts; and monitoring and responding to all updates on national, international and state rules as they unfold. That work has not stopped. We continue to build new initiatives, including new internships and new subjects: our ambition is to build an online community as resilient as that we had pre-COVID-19.
At every point, our emphasis has been on ensuring that we maintain the quality of our teaching, including through the continuation of seminar teaching to groups of students to build the intellectual sociality we pride. We are also finding ways to engage as a community beyond the classroom, and the student body has built an online community very rapidly.
You are right to ask questions. There is no map for this territory.
You (our students) have been magnificent. You have adapted to the new learning environment, you have helped each other, and in some instances helped us as well. I thank you.
Professor Pip Nicholson
Dean, Melbourne Law School