Sydney or UNSW law school?

There are few things that law stu­dents at Sydney Uni­ver­sity and at UNSW will defend more pas­sion­ately: the qual­ity of their respect­ive insti­tu­tions — just which law school is bet­ter?

I don’t pro­fess to have the answer to this ques­tion, because it is unfair for me to answer this ques­tion when I have only atten­ded one of them (Sydney). How­ever, surely, a recourse to stat­ist­ics would provide us with an object­ive answer?

And with stat­ist­ics, UNSW has pro­claimed them­selves the King of Law Schools in Aus­tralia. They claim:

The Fac­ulty of Law at the Uni­ver­sity of New South Wales in Sydney leads all Aus­trali­an uni­ver­sit­ies for the qual­ity of learn­ing and teach­ing law. This is the second con­sec­ut­ive year the Fac­ulty of Law, togeth­er with UNSW Aus­trali­an School of Busi­ness, has achieved the top rank­ing in the busi­ness, law and eco­nom­ics cluster.

This claim is fol­lowed by a bunch of graphs that show that UNSW scores high­er on a num­ber of met­rics, includ­ing “over­all sat­is­fac­tion”, “gen­er­ic skills” and “good teach­ing” as meas­ured by the Group of Eight. So far, this is all very con­vin­cing evid­ence that UNSW is bet­ter, right?

As Daniel poin­ted out when we were per­us­ing these graphs togeth­er, there is a fun­da­ment­al flaw with the stat­ist­ics as presen­ted. Where would they obtain meas­ure­ments for met­rics such “over­all sat­is­fac­tion” from? From their gradu­ates of course. Unless they per­formed some kind of nor­m­al­isa­tion between the dif­fer­ent uni­ver­sit­ies, the out­come is liable to be affected by, for example, the dif­fer­ence between what Sydney and UNSW law stu­dents expect from their courses (maybe Sydney stu­dents just demand more?) or bias arising from the pride that stu­dents have in their own insti­tu­tion.

Clearly, stat­ist­ics are one factor to con­sider in your choice of law school or uni­ver­sity. How­ever, it would be a mis­take to base your decision merely on these stat­ist­ics, or oth­er stat­ist­ics such as the pro­por­tion of gradu­ates in full-time employ­ment after a year (maybe more stu­dents from a par­tic­u­lar uni­ver­sity went into post-gradu­ate study?). There is more to uni­ver­sity than that. You need to con­sider the exper­i­ence out­side the classroom, in the form of clubs and soci­et­ies and extra­cur­ricular activ­it­ies. There is also a dif­fer­ence in cul­ture that you need to con­sider. This was best high­lighted for me when I watched the UNSW Law Revue last year; their jokes weren’t funny to me for the most part, yet all the UNSW-ers seemed to enjoy it; I put it down to a dif­fer­ence in cul­ture.

So what do I think? I cer­tainly don’t regret choos­ing Sydney Uni­ver­sity (for both my sci­ence and law degrees). I enjoy the intel­lec­tu­al­ism that per­vades the place, although law stu­dents at Sydney tend to be more com­pet­it­ive than I find optim­al.

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7 comments

  1. GT’s avatar

    Yo, I’m doing the JD at USYD. It is in the first year and I have to say it is not going well at all. The intens­ive mode is not win­ning any fans. Right now I’d say UNSW is clearly bet­ter if you choose the JD. They are more cut­ting edge and have their act togeth­er bet­ter although they still have work to do like cut­ting down class num­bers. That said there are some good things about USYD but check it out first.

    1. RL’s avatar

      Thanks for that info. Hard to get a sense what the JD pro­grams are really like from all the uni pro­pa­ganda on their web­sites! I’m from Melb but I applied for UNSW and USyd as well as Melb JDs for next year, cos I’ve been think­ing for a while I’d like a change of scene in Sydney. And I just got an offer from UNSW, so your advice is help­ful! But I’ve heard rave reviews about the Melb JD so I’m wait­ing til I hear back about that before mak­ing any decisions…

    2. LB’s avatar

      Hey GT, and any­one else — i’m still toss­ing up between USyd and UNSW for my tax law mas­ters. Any decid­ing factors?

      Why isn’t the intens­ive mode at Syd very good?

      Thanks guys!

    3. JN’s avatar

      I have done a few sub­jects of the tax law mas­ters pro­gram at usyd and my exper­i­ence so far has been good and the lec­tur­ers are insight­ful.

      In terms of usyd v unsw, I’m not too sure if there is a major point of dif­fer­ence. Both uni­ver­sit­ies seem to have developed a spe­cial­ised tax law sub­jects in their mas­ters pro­gram.

      The only caveat I would make how­ever is to assess wheth­er you will get any bene­fit out from doing the tax kaw mas­ters. Gen­er­ally, the tax mas­ters are con­duc­ted at a spe­cial­ised level, mean­ing that the stu­dents are assumed to have a rel­ev­ant level of under­stand­ing if Aus­trali­an tax law or rel­ev­ant exper­i­ence. Cer­tainly I have found that I was able to get more from doing mas­ters in tax hav­ing worked in a tax prac­tice for a year before I star­ted mas­ters. Although I don’t think it is a pre­requis­ite of the uni to have this exper­i­ence before they accept your enrol­ment, but per­son­ally the exper­i­ence helped me in get­ting the most out of it.

      If your are look­ing to do the mas­ters in tax course to build up a basic under­stand­ing of the Aust tax sys­tem, the mas­ters of tax courses at both uni­ver­sit­ies are not the best option as a lot of the sub­jects focuses on spe­cif­ic and spe­cial­ised areas of yax.law.and often than not, tailored to those alteady in prac­tice.

      There are oth­er options if you want to get a basic under­stand­ing. I think the tax insti­tute of aus­tralia runs a dip­loma or cer­ti­fic­ate pro­grams on it. I sug­gest you have a look on the­or web­site if that is what you are after.

      I hope this helps!

    4. LB’s avatar

      Hi there, I’ve been work­ing in tax for some years now and am now spe­cial­iz­ing in inter­na­tion­al cor­por­ate tax. Both uni­ver­sit­ies cater for these and I like unsw flex­ible study arrange­ments which would be great when work­ing ridicu­lous hours, but not sure if u Syds sub­jects are bet­ter etc — more googling is needed! Haha. Have you done any of the intens­ive courses? thanks for your help

      1. LB’s avatar

        Also i couldn’t really ima­gine any­one doing a mas­ters in this field who hasn’t already worked in the industry for some time or does­nt have a basic under­stand­ing of aus­trali­an tax law, and To be hon­est you need a more than a basic under­stand­ing to really be able to get a lot of out a mas­ters (well that’s how I see it)- don’t think I’ll both­er with the tax insti­tute at this stage. Deal with mas­ters first! One thing at a time…

        If you have any opin­ion on course struc­ture /​ con­tent /​ prac­tic­al­ity /​ study arrangem­nts (ie you have a lec­ture but miss it due to dead­lines etc how they cater for that etc) that would. Be great! Thanks heaps

      2. RL’s avatar

        Thanks for that info. Hard to get a sense what the JD pro­grams are really like from all the uni pro­pa­ganda on their web­sites! I\‘m from Melb but I applied for UNSW and USyd as well as Melb JDs for next year, cos I\‘ve been think­ing for a while I\‘d like a change of scene in Sydney. And I just got an offer from UNSW, so your advice is help­ful! But I\‘ve heard rave reviews about the Melb JD so I\‘m wait­ing til I hear back about that before mak­ing any decisions…

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