9 Nov 2016

Doubts over increase to Auckland law school roll

9:23 am on 9 November 2016

Auckland University is raising the number of law school enrolments for the first time in a decade though many of its own staff were against the plan.

It is increasing the number of students accepted into the second year of law from 320 to 380 next year and possibly to 500 the year after that.

The university said the increase would improve the faculty's international standing and allow it to accept more the of the 1500 students who study the first year of law.

University of Auckland

University of Auckland Photo: 123RF

University documents said expanding the intake would help it keep students who would otherwise go to universities such as Victoria and Otago.

But Auckland law professor Jane Kelsey said the university's council had approved the growth against the wishes of law staff and the university's key academic advisory group, the senate.

"There was a unanimous rejection of the proposal in the faculty of law. That then went to the senate and the senate members voted 43 in favour of a motion to keep the numbers as they were, five against and seven abstained, so it was pretty overwhelming. That went up to council, council voted to proceed, albeit with some smaller numbers."

Jane Kelsey

Law professor Jane Kelsey. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Another Auckland law professor, Peter Watts QC, said there was not enough time to hire top quality staff to fill existing vacancies and cover the planned enrolment increases.

"We've got eight vacancies, at least, at the moment with our current numbers. So the idea that we would be able to scale up and keep class sizes down to our traditional sizes with quality staff is really not realistic."

Auckland lawyer and QC Jim Farmer said few lawyers knew about Auckland's plan and he opposed it because there were already too many law graduates.

"Most new students into the university from school, they have an ambition to be a lawyer. They may change their mind later, but that's what they want to do and what they don't know is that at the other end of it there's probably only about half the number of jobs available for the number of graduates."

Law school 'hasn't kept up with the demand' - University dean

But the dean of Auckand's law faculty, Andrew Stockley, said law was a good degree for a range of careers, and provincial areas were crying out for lawyers.

He said a lot of staff opposition was based on the original expansion plan, which had been altered, with guarantees of more space and more staffing.

"There are a number of staff in the law school who are very supportive of this and think that it's something that the law school should do and can see the benefits," he said.

Professor Stockley said next year's growth would add 50 students to a faculty of about 2500 students.

He said the expansion was overdue.

"The Auckland law school hasn't increased its student intake into second-year for a decade. Other law schools have grown, Auckland University now has around 40,000 students, there's a much larger population in Auckland than a decade ago.

"Our law school hasn't kept up with the demand."

Professor Stockley said a further increase to 500 students in second year had not yet been approved and would only happen if next year's expansion went well.