Dr. Onyeka Osuji, Director of the Commercial Law PGT, School of Law, University of Essex

Dr. Onyeka Osuji is a Reader in Law and Director of the Commercial Law PGT at the School of Law, University of Essex. He is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Dr Osuji obtained a PhD in law from the University of Manchester (as a School of Law Scholar) and a BCL (Law) from the University of Oxford (as a Shell Centenary/FCO Chevening Scholar). He has an LLB from the University of Nigeria where he graduated as the Best Student of the Faculty of Law. He also has a barrister-at-law diploma from the Nigerian Law School and was awarded the Best Overall Performance (Second Prize) and two prizes in Legal Drafting and Conveyancing. Dr Osuji previously practised in corporate and commercial law before becoming an academic. He is qualified as a barrister and solicitor of Nigeria and a (non-practising) solicitor of England and Wales and has advised individuals, corporations, and national and international governmental and non-governmental organizations. In an exclusive interaction with Higher Education Digest, Dr. Osuji talks about his views on legal education in India, education in the UK and many more. 

 

What is your opinion about the Indian legal education ecosystem and talent available here?

India’s population, array of talents and rich diversity of cultures provide opportunities for an excellent legal education. It appears that there is a relatively large interest in legal education in India leading to the existence of many legal education providers. This, perhaps, can be traced to cultural factors including the prestige attached to the legal profession. India is not alone in this as legal education enjoys admiration in many other countries.  Nonetheless, it is also important to ensure that the products of the legal education system are sufficiently equipped for the challenges of contemporary society.

As the Director of Commercial Law PGT at the School of Law, University of Essex, what is your take on the major differences between Indian legal education system and global legal studies?

India shares the common law legal tradition with England and other Commonwealth countries that are former colonies of the United Kingdom. As a result, the substantive content of India’s legal education system may not be completely different from the other common law jurisdictions which recognise judge-made rules in case law. Some areas of law such as contract law and tort law are not dissimilar in those jurisdictions. Nevertheless, statutory developments in different jurisdictions can affect the content of traditional areas of common law and creating inter-jurisdictional differences. For example, statutory interventions for consumer protection have reshaped the face of contract law in England. It may therefore be useful to adopt a comparative and internationalist approach to teaching and learning certain areas of the law. This is one of the approaches adopted by the School of Law at the University of Essex.  Curriculum can therefore be one of the jurisdictional differences in legal education provision. There may also be differences in pedagogical approaches and assessment practices. For example, in addition to examination, essay writing is an important component of legal education in the United Kingdom.

What should be the focus of Indian legal educators to reach the global standards of legal education?

Substantively, the development of a critical analytical mindset should be one of the areas of focus for legal education in India and elsewhere. The mindset will enable law graduates to identify and propose legal solutions to existing and emergent challenges in society. Continuous curriculum development is essential. Legal education providers will need to ensure that their curriculum, assessment criteria and learning outcomes are aware of contemporary developments and national and global challenges. It is increasingly important for legal education providers to partner and collaborate with institutions in other countries to provide forums for cross-exchange of ideas and awareness of emergent and international best standards and practices. This can be in the form of academic exchanges, student exchanges, conferences and workshops. Using and broadening the scope of external examining can also be helpful.

With ever more business seeking to expand their operations across the borders, there is a rising demand for legal professionals with global mindset. At present, what are the biggest opportunities and challenges in the international law education sector?

Globalization has certainly created opportunities for legal education, including the internationalisation of student and teaching staff populations and internationalisation of curriculum. Law graduates are able to use qualifications gained in one jurisdiction in other locations. The extraterritorial nature of certain legal issues, including those triggered by digital technologies, has created opportunities for the application of legal knowledge and skills. Nonetheless, an internationalist curriculum can be demanding for legal education providers and may require significant and continuous investment in human, organizational and material resources to incorporate existing and emerging issues. Another challenge is with regards to the application of legal knowledge and legal practice opportunities for law graduates. While integration is pursued by an exponential number of regional organizations, restrictive national rules still apply to legal practice qualifications. The dominant trend is inward-looking national rules that deepen differences in legal practice qualification standards and impede a truly internationalist approach to legal education.

While, digital education has the capability to change the educational landscape, what are the challenges for a traditional law facilitator in the tech-driven world?   

While it offers immense opportunities such as ease and speed of research, a wider range of pedagogical tools and interactivity in teaching sessions, technology challenges legal education in various ways. First, the evolution of technology raises legal issues that requires curriculum development from time to time to take into consideration. For instance, what have been labelled ‘disruptive technologies’ cannot be ignored by legal education providers if legal education can produce appropriately equipped graduates. Secondly, while it can enhance research, technology allows unreliable sources to be easily available and disseminated to a wide range of audience, including students. There are, for instance, web-based sources that are deliberately designed to spread misinformation. Some have extremely poor-quality assurance standards which students may not know about. Thirdly, technology can challenge academic standards by providing opportunities for improper and dishonest academic practices such as plagiarism, collusion and commercial sale of essays. This particularly affects traditional assessment strategies such as essays and coursework. Fourthly, reliance on technology may affect students’ attendance in classes and engagement with learning. Technology can also be distracting for students in class and while undertaking independent learning. For example, the pull of social media is particularly attractive for younger age groups who constitute the bulk of the legal education student body Many Indian students go abroad each year for higher education in various educational institutes all over the world. Can you share us an integral know-how on a student’s life abroad, especially in the UK? What are the pros and cons? There are over 25,000 Indian students in the UK currently and this figure is soon going to quadruple after the recent announcement of the introduction of a new Graduate Immigration Route for international students. Under this route, students will be able to stay and work, or look for work, in the UK at any skill level for a maximum period of two years. Also, graduates will be able to switch into skilled work once they have found a suitable job. Lives of students in the UK usually include the following highlights:

  • Focus on Research: Prestigious institutions like Essex put equal importance on teaching and research. At Essex we believe that research can help students to change the world for the better, build networks and enhance professional development. UK universities continuously encourage their students to pursue ground-breaking research. This mindset is engineered amongst international students during their LLM, where they need to undertake a mandatory dissertation (of between 15,000-20,000 words) as a part of their masters.
  • Outcome based teaching with a clear focus on industry fitment: At Essex the courses are designed to equip students with a wide range of transferable skills which make them attractive to future employers. For example, the LLM International Commercial and Business Law and LLM Trade and Maritime Law courses offer a professional placement year after the standard one year.
  • Attractive Duration of a UK masters: A standard UK LLM degree is for one year – Indian students can save up to half of their time if they wish to come to the UK instead of studying Law in India. This is also true for most master’s level programs in the UK, also UG degrees are of a standard three-year duration which is shorter compared to a four-year bachelors of technology degree in India. A one-year masters means less tuition fees and living costs without compromising on academic rigour and depth of study.
  • Openness towards part-time jobs: Any experience is good experience and Indian students should open up to this thought. UK part time jobs teach a lot of transferable skills and can enhance long term employability prospects for students. This is one of the best parts of a UK Tier 4 visa, it legally allows the students to work on and off the campus for 20 hours per week. Career centres at universities can support the students in finding these jobs by offering free counselling services, conducting a career mapping exercise, and helping them with CV editing services. Students are advised to keep a tab on the employability centres social media pages for job openings, attend career fairs, and making sure their network effectively to seek these options.
  • An Essex degree experience also offers lots of additional opportunities such as the opportunity of learning an international language at no extra cost, employability support, career workshops, and life changing Study Abroad opportunities

Some of the major challenges that Indian students face:

Food: Even though Chicken Tikka Masala is sometimes called the national dish of Britain, most UK food is bland and very different to rich, spicy and clarified butter laden Indian cuisine. Food is an important part of one’s wellbeing and is often the most ignored characteristic when measuring student happiness. We recommend that Indian students should learn the basics before they fly out to the UK, also suggest they buy groceries every weekend and get into the habit of cooking at least one meal a day to save costs and eat a home cooked healthy option. Essex has a very active Indian Society that reaches out to Indian students and helps them settle at the university. Lack of awareness on Plagiarism: Because the Indian schools education system is based on the methodology of rote memorisation Indian students do not learn to present their ideas in an original format. Because of lack of exposure to conduct original research, Indian students are tempted to present the ideas of others as theirs without giving them the valid acknowledgement. Plagiarism is a very serious issue for UK institutions and one Indian student need to avoid at all costs. We recommend speaking to academic staff openly, keeping an open mindset about learning and being mindful of relearning new teaching approaches. Living independently: A lot of Indian students find it challenging to live without the support of parents and family. Learning to multitask is a key skill which students from India are encouraged to learn. We recommend that students should create a task list for paying bills, keeping a check on monthly spend, renewing any travel cards, rent renewal or any other activity which might seem daunting to them.

Tell us about the scholarships offered by the University of Essex to attraction international students, especially students from India.

Essex has an academic excellence international masters scholarship for Indian students wanting to pursue their masters in Law. The scholarship award can range between a GBP 3000 to GBP 5000. The scholarship is awarded on the basis of merit and academic excellence. There is also a loyalty discount for returning Masters students who completed their undergraduate studies at Essex.

What is your advice to the India students who wish to study law abroad?

Be open minded; learn and follow the rules of the place you are in; make friends that will last a lifetime; develop relationships and networks that will be useful wherever you will be and from time to time; maintain a good work-life balance; and enjoy your time abroad.

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