Friday 18 October 2013

UniSIM picked to host Singapore's 3rd law school

Part-time degree course to focus on criminal and matrimonial law
By Sandra Davie And Ian Poh, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2013

SINGAPORE'S only private university, SIM University (UniSIM), has been picked to host the third law school.

The part-time undergraduate degree course, which will open in the next few years, is expected to take in about 75 students.

While it will be a general law degree, there will be a strong focus on the specialist practice areas of criminal and matrimonial law to address the shortage of lawyers in these fields.

Setting itself apart from the two existing law schools, the course will be geared towards attracting mid-career professionals who want to make law their new career. They may include paralegals, social workers and law enforcement officers.

The law schools at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore Management University (SMU) target mainly students who have just completed their A-level examination.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat made the announcement yesterday at UniSIM's convocation ceremony. Mr Heng said that in selecting UniSIM, the Government considered its strong track record in providing degree programmes for working adults, and its complementary offerings in the social sciences and humanities.

"It is envisaged that this third law school will have a strong applied curriculum," he said.

The Ministry of Law will work with UniSIM to develop the school's programmes in consultation with the legal industry.

Referring to the upcoming school, Law Minister K. Shanmugam wrote in a Facebook post: "It will provide Singaporeans interested in a career in the law more opportunities and a new pathway to fulfil their career aspirations."

Plans to set up a third law school were announced by Mr Shanmugam in May. It was one of the recommendations made by a committee formed to review the supply of lawyers here.

Lawyers welcomed news that Singapore's third law school will be hosted at UniSIM. However, they pointed out some issues that need to be addressed, such as ensuring that the school can secure the resources to distinguish itself from the two existing ones.

Criminal lawyer Josephus Tan suggested that there be "some sort of mechanism" to ensure that graduates from the school actually practise criminal and family law.

Lawyer Raphael Louis, who worked as a counsellor for 13 years before practising community law, is concerned that the new school could eventually lead to an oversupply of lawyers.

"Graduates from this school will have to fight for limited places at smaller firms, since the top or bigger law firms do not focus mainly on community law. How will they all be able to start to practise?"

NUS and SMU were supportive of the new school. NUS law dean Simon Chesterman said: "I would see the school as complementing what we do - rather than competing with us."

SMU law dean Yeo Tiong Min said he saw that all three law schools would look to differentiate themselves in terms of research and teaching focus.

NUS takes in about 250 students a year, while SMU takes in about 120 students.

Students from third law school not second class: Shanmugam
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 31 Oct 2013

IT IS not fair to brand future graduates of Singapore's third law school as "second class", said Law Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.

Students from the school will be equipped with the full range of skills expected of all lawyers, and will not be restricted to practising only family and criminal law, he wrote in a Facebook post.

However, it is hoped that "a reasonable number" of them will end up practising in these areas, by targeting mature students who have gained work experience in related fields, such as social work and the police force, he added.

It was announced two weeks ago that the law school will open at SIM University, which caters to working adults, in the next few years. The part-time undergraduate degree course is expected to take in about 75 students. While it will be a general law degree, there will be a strong focus on criminal and matrimonial law to address the shortage of lawyers in these fields.

In his blog post, Mr Shanmugam noted concerns that lawyers from the new school will be perceived as "second class" to their counterparts from the two existing law schools at the National University of Singapore and Singapore Management University. "It would not be accurate to say that graduates of the third Law School are restricted to practising community law. Nor is it fair to brand them as 'second class'," he said.

They will be "equipped with the full range of skills expected of all lawyers", and can " practise in any area of the law they wish".

Some have also questioned if the setting up of the new school can address the shortage of lawyers in community law, given that graduates may not end up practising in this field.

"This is not something that can be mandated by the Government or anyone else," Mr Shanmugam acknowledged.

But by making community law a focus of the new school, and by targeting mid-career professionals who are keen to start a career in law, "the hope is that a reasonable number will end up practising law in that area", he added.

The upcoming school will also give working adults a second chance to pursue their dreams of practising law. "Many people develop greater clarity of their interests when they are more mature," he said. "This is very much in line with our intent to ensure that Singapore remains a nation of opportunities."

The legal system as a whole will also benefit. "In other jurisdictions, mixed teams of lawyers and social workers work together on cases, and ensure best outcomes for litigants."

Varsities offering more pathways
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2013

MORE diverse degree pathways will open up for Singaporeans over the next few years with SIM University (UniSIM) and the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) launching practice-oriented, industry-focused courses.

UniSIM in Clementi will add three full-time degrees to its part-time offerings for working adults. The courses in marketing, finance and accountancy will offer 200 places.

The SIT, which currently offers niche degrees from overseas universities, will run its own programmes from next year in infrastructure engineering, software development and accountancy.

These courses will add another 200 places to its yearly intake, which amounted to 1,500 this year.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who announced the new courses at the annual convocation ceremony of UniSIM graduates yesterday, said: "Many new university sector learning opportunities are in the making, to better cater to the diverse aspirations of our young."

He said the new offerings by UniSIM and SIT will differ from those at the other four universities in taking an applied learning approach - classroom learning is integrated with real-life, on-the-job application.

One feature will be work attachment programmes that will be longer and offer a deeper immersion. Students will also take on an applied project around a work-related issue gleaned directly from the work attachments.

The two universities will release more details next week.

In outlining his vision for a more diverse higher education landscape, Mr Heng said he sees UniSIM and SIT go on to establish their own niches and specialisations.

"Our young people with an interest in largely science and technology disciplines can look to SIT, which aims to develop best-in- class specialists with deep technical expertise.

"UniSIM will be the place for young people keen to take up programmes in business, human and social services."

Later, when asked if the two universities would find it difficult to compete with the more established players, Mr Heng noted that there were similar concerns when the Government set up the Singapore Management University and the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

He said he was confident that the two universities will be able to draw in students as long as they are able to provide something distinctive.

UniSIM president Cheong Hee Kiat said the university will use the unique teaching it has developed and strong industry links to make its programmes distinctive.

SIT president Tan Thiam Soon noted that the university's aim will be to produce specialists with deep skill-sets - "best-in-class specialists", as the minister put it in his speech.

Flexibility key to UniSIM's full-time courses
Students can opt to finish courses earlier, or switch to study part-time
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2013

FLEXIBILITY will be a defining feature of SIM University's (UniSIM) new full-time courses when they kick off next year.

The pioneer batch of 200 students can crunch a four-year course into three years by taking more modules during a semester, even through evening classes.

And if students land a job during their course, they have the option of switching to part- time studies and taking up to six years to earn their degree.

UniSIM president Cheong Hee Kiat, who stressed the flexible nature of the three new full-time courses in finance, marketing and accountancy as he detailed them yesterday, said: "In the future, the boundaries between part-time and full-time and work and study will not be clear-cut.

"You will have workers alternating between periods of work and study. It's not like today where you study for four years and then go out to work."

There will be no lectures and tutorials. Instead, students will read materials and listen to lectures online before coming to class ready to take part in discussions.

They will also study minor modules such as psychology and sociology in evening classes alongside working adults on part-time degree courses.

Explaining why the university wants its full-timers to study alongside its part-timers, which currently number 13,000 in some 55 courses ranging from counselling to aviation management, Professor Cheong said: "The interaction would help them develop a deeper understanding of real work issues, and allow them to form valuable professional and personal networks."

"Real work" experience will also feature heavily through a structured six-month work attachment. Final-year students will have to complete a project based on a work-related issue, and be required to spend at least 80 hours organising a community service project.

Prof Cheong noted that more than 50 companies, among them 14 accounting firms, have already signed up to offer work attachments to UniSIM students.

Singapore National Employers Federation executive director Koh Juan Kiat is not surprised at the numbers, saying it is a win-win situation for students and companies. "It benefits the students in that they get to try out different jobs. For the companies, it is a very good recruitment tool."

UniSIM provost Tsui Kai Chong said applications for the 120 places in accountancy, and 40 places each in marketing and finance will open in December.

Students will be selected based on not just academic results, but also other attributes such as voluntary work. About 400 will be shortlisted, and they will be required to write an essay, and undergo group and one-to-one interviews.

Full-time national serviceman Tavence Heng, 21, who is already eyeing a place in UniSIM's finance degree course, said the draw for him is the intensive job preparation that the course will provide.

The polytechnic graduate, who holds an engineering with business diploma, said: "I also like the idea of a degree route which is flexible."

According to UniSIM, fees for its full-time courses will be comparable to what the National University of Singapore and the Nanyang Technological University charge for their general degrees.

The Public Service Division, the civil service's human resource arm, also told The Straits Times yesterday that it will recognise UniSIM's full-time degrees, just as it does the part-time ones.

Top legal minds to help shape 3rd law school
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2013

SOME of the most prominent members of the legal fraternity in Singapore will have a hand in shaping the third law school, which will be set up in a few years at SIM University.

The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) announced yesterday that it has set up a 12-member steering committee to provide the school's strategic direction, including its admissions criteria, curriculum development and educational philosophy.

Members on the panel, which is headed by Senior Minister of State for Education and Law Indranee Rajah, include Attorney-General's Chambers chief prosecutor Tai Wei Shyong and Chief District Judge See Kee Oon.

Also on the list are senior counsels Amarjeet Singh and N. Sreenivasan, renowned criminal lawyer Subhas Anandan and leading family lawyer Foo Siew Fong.

The committee will be supported by a Curriculum Working Group, which will make recommendations on the curricular framework.

Plans for Singapore's third law school were announced by Law Minister K. Shanmugam in May. It was one of the recommendations by a committee formed to review the supply of lawyers here.

While SIM's new part-time undergraduate course, which is expected to take in about 75 students, will lead to a general law degree, there will be a strong focus on criminal and matrimonial law.

This is to address the shortage of lawyers in these fields.

Ms Indranee said that a strong emphasis on multi-disciplinary and applied learning will be another unique feature of the school.

"It will provide another new pathway to learning, and allow people to achieve new career heights by leveraging on relevant past experience," she said.

MinLaw said work experience through industry attachments and exposure to pro bono work will be an integral part of the course.

The UniSIM Law School intends to attract students with the appropriate aptitude and disposition, such as those with relevant working experience and maturity to handle the emotional aspects of family and criminal law.

Ms Foo, who has practised as a lawyer for more than two decades, believes those with backgrounds in social work and counselling will fit the bill.

"Not only will they have the relevant background, but they are also likely to have the soft skills that will make them good family lawyers," she said.

"I will definitely hire someone with such a background."

Criminal lawyer Josephus Tan, who spends a third of his time on giving free legal advice, added that pro bono attachments are a good way for law students to develop their skills while providing assistance to society's most vulnerable.

As for the make-up of the steering committee, the 33-year-old said: "With so many top legal minds playing a part, I would say the third law school is off to a good start."

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