Bangor University: How to keep Law students happy!
It’s official: Bangor University has some of the most satisfied graduating law students not only in Wales, but also across the UK!
In the most recent National Student Survey, Bangor Law School was ranked as the no.1 law school in Wales and joint 5th in the whole of the United Kingdom for overall student satisfaction. One aspect the students are particularly happy with is teaching: in the ‘staff are good at explaining things’ category, Bangor scored a phenomenal 100% satisfaction rating from its three-year LLB students, making it the top law school throughout the UK for this. Although Bangor Law School has, in recent years, attained a prominent position in the NSS, this is the first time it has achieved this no. 1 spot, marking the culmination of a five-year programme to improve satisfaction amongst its students.
Every year, the National Student Survey commissions IPSOS MORI to independently poll data from graduating students from all UK universities. The survey measures students’ satisfaction on key metrics such as feedback on work, library facilities, staff lecturing performance and pastoral support, amongst others. In 2014, Bangor Law School scored an outstanding 94% overall, which means it now shares the joint 5th spot for student satisfaction and ranks ahead of many leading UK university law schools such as Manchester, LSE, UCL, Kings College and Cardiff.
So what makes Bangor different? According to the Head of School, Professor Dermot Cahill, it’s not just Bangor Law School’s commitment to hiring superb Law lecturers who are committed to student learning, but it is also key interventions in student support and employability.
“I am delighted that our students have given us such a huge vote of confidence, and it is little wonder that our students exhibit such a high level of satisfaction with their University experience”, says Professor Cahill. “What makes Bangor a special place to be a Law student is that we have resisted the urge, unlike so many others, to become a “conveyor belt” operation. Our reasonably sized classes enable the lecturers to take a genuinely student-centred approach to teaching. By limiting our intake to around 100 maximum per year, we get to know each student as an individual, and this helps us to foster their individual experience and help them achieve their goals and aspirations. I have sympathy for Law students in other universities who are in classes of two or three hundred, or even more. That cannot be good for student experience, especially for first years. Students can do amazing things when you provide them with the right study environment and the right class size, supported by high quality lecturing, pastoral and work experience support. All are key parts of our mission here at Bangor.”
And then there is the ‘x factor’: “Lots of universities say they listen to their students, but do they really”, he asks. “We listen carefully to our student feedback, and crucially, we also tell them what we are going to do about it; when we have done it, we tell them what we have done – that is what we call the ‘x-factor’! Students greatly appreciate that approach.”
Another key support initiative the students appreciate in this challenging economic climate is the work of the Law School’s employability committee, run by the lecturers and chaired by Law lecturer Gwilym Owen, formerly a solicitor in a leading law firm. The committee has set up very valuable internship links with law firms and barristers’ chambers. “We carefully match the student with the internship that suits them best”, explains Professor Cahill, “and that can lead to other things. To give you an example, Rachel Gill, one of our recent graduates, has secured a traineeship with Addleshaw Goddard, a major commercial law firm, with whom she previously undertook a vacation scheme. Linenhall Chambers in Chester takes four of our students every year on a diverse range of mini-pupillages, and we also have strong links with Gwynedd County Council, who kindly offer internships each year to our students. This year, two of those students, Rebecca Kiely and Sian Roberts, were offered jobs with the Council.
“There are other exciting initiatives in the pipeline, and the University supports our internship candidates by offering a bursary scheme to help defray travel expenses. Our students’ achievements are testament to the success of these initiatives.”
LLB Law student Catherine-Anne Higham is one student to have benefited from the School’s support initiatives. During summer 2014, she completed a week's work experience placement with Jones Robertson Solicitors in Runcorn, which was set up by lecturer Mark Hyland. “Whilst on the placement, I shadowed one of the firm's criminal defence solicitors and spent a great deal of time in both the Magistrates court and the Crown court, as well as at the local police station in the custody suites”, says 21-year-old Catherine. “I was given a chance to experience the day-to-day life of a solicitor and come into contact with several different clients. As a direct result of this placement, and all the help given to me by the Law School, I managed to secure a second placement.”
Catherine-Anne has also taken advantage of the numerous mooting opportunities the School has to offer. “In August, I won a Welsh medium moot court competition which was organised by Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol”, she says. “It was the Law School who informed me of and encouraged me to enter the competition. In particular, I was given a great deal of help by my lecturers Hayley Roberts and Huw Pritchard, both of whom helped me prepare and practice. Without them, I doubt I would have been able to succeed.”
Mooting has also been an integral part of Kgosi Ngwenya’s university experience. “Earlier this year, I represented Bangor Law School – and Wales – in the Telders International Moot Court Competition in the Hague, Netherlands, where we competed against several law schools from various other European countries.
“Studying at Bangor University has given me the opportunity to take part in many other law-related events too”, continues the 3rd year Law with French student. “During my first year, I was elected course representative by my peers, and I was later nominated for one of the University’s ‘Course Representative of the Year’ awards. I also took part in the School’s Street Law project, in which students work to educate local people about their legal rights.”
The School’s focus on employability has certainly inspired LLB Law student Keira Hand. “Since joining Bangor Law School, I have been accepted onto three different mini-Pupillage programmes”, says the 19-year-old from Wrexham. “Over Christmas, I will be shadowing a judge in Chester County Court, and next summer, I will be undertaking an internship with a human rights firm, McCue and Partners, in London.”
Keira’s dedication to enhancing her career prospects certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed by the School. “The School has appointed me as an Aspiring Solicitors Ambassador for the University, the purpose of which is to promote diversity in the legal profession”, she says. And that’s not all: “my lecturers Yvonne McDermott Rees and Osian Rees have also selected me to present on the human rights of children at the Legal Wales conference in October, before the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales (amongst others).
“All the lecturers are great at getting us to challenge ourselves to go further. Their support and encouragement is a constant factor in the background, which is very reassuring.”
This seal of approval from the student body is nothing new. “Over the past two years, several colleagues have been either winners or finalists in top lecturing awards”, states Professor Cahill. “Sarah Nason was a finalist in the UK-wide Oxford University Press ‘Law Teacher of the Year’ awards, while Gwilym Owen was a finalist in the LawCareers.Net Law ‘Lecturer of the Year’ awards, another national competition. This shows that we are at the top of our game.
“It’s not just our external peers who are attesting as to our competence, but also our students”, he continues. “Last year, for example, Pedro Telles was voted ‘Most Innovative Lecturer of the Year’ in the University’s Student-Led Teaching Awards, with Stephen Clear voted ‘Best Postgraduate Teacher of the Year’ – both faced stiff competition from great lecturers in other faculties. So, when our Law students have such a talented bunch of lecturers teaching them, you know the experience is going to be a good one.”
Publication date: 1 October 2014