GIVING A EUROPEAN DIMENSION TO STUDENT CURRICULUM: A CASE STUDY ON LAW WITH
Dr. Marie-Luce Paris-Dobozy
School of Law, University College Dublin
Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland
rdPaper Prepared for Presentation at AISHE 3 International Conference
on Teaching and Learning in the Changing World of Higher Education
NUI Maynooth, Ireland
thst30 & 31 August 2007
Draft – Please do not cite without consent of author
Comments are welcome
GIVING A EUROPEAN DIMENSION TO STUDENT CURRICULUM: A CASE STUDY ON LAW WITH
“Europe is not only that of the Euro, of the banks and the economy: it must be a Europe of knowledge as well”
(Sorbonne Declaration, 25 May 1998)
Apart from foreign languages, most academic subjects be they economics, history, sociology, philosophy, chemistry, marketing, and so on, need to incorporate an international approach to the study of the subject. It is incumbent on tertiary academics to ensure that their teaching and scholarship, and indeed research, are in contact with the best international studies in 1their field. Even the study of law, which may be regarded as the most country-specific discipline of all, naturally offers an international perspective. For instance, if the curriculum in Law schools includes the study of Public Law – that is the study of domestic Constitutional
Law and Administrative Law – it also offers a course on Public International Law concerned with the relationships between sovereign nations and involving the study inter alia of the
United Nations Organization, the Geneva Conventions, Maritime Law and International Criminal Law. This international dimension has been a prominent feature and continuing pattern in the curricula of legal studies. The demands of globalisation have put greater pressure to internationalize the curriculum in order to prepare students and future lawyers for global citizenship. This is particularly relevant in the context of the European Union where a range of specific developments have taken place in recent years.
Focusing on the European context and on the particular discipline of Law, this paper offers a case study on Law with language degrees as a practical example of how to give a European dimension to student curriculum – and how to prepare students to assume and make the 2most of their European citizenship. After a short presentation of the object of study, that is the two Law with language degrees concerned, the paper will place it in its European context. Secondly, a brief evaluation of the challenges arising from the creation and management of the two programmes will be presented with a focus on the tasks involved in terms of curriculum design. Lastly, the author will provide some reflections on the benefits gained from the existence of such bilingual discipline-specific programmes.
Object of Study: The Bachelor of Civil Law with French Law and the Bachelor of Civil Law/Maîtrise
The Bachelor of Civil Law with French Law was put in place in 1999 and has had five graduations so far – the last ones graduating next September. It is a four-year full-time degree which introduces a strong comparative dimension that enables students to study two of the world’s major legal systems – namely the Common Law and the Civil Law systems.
The curriculum is designed to give students a grounding in Irish Law together with a general education in French Law. It gives them a critical understanding of legal institutions in both Ireland and France along with the scope and application of legal rules and principles. The first and second stages include most of the core modules of the Bachelor of Civil Law Programme, as well as subjects in French Law – French Public Law in first year and French
Private Law in second year. The third year focuses exclusively on French Law and is spent at one of the four French university partners. The final stage of the Programme includes a range of options in Irish Law, as well as two compulsory modules in French Law – 3Professional Legal Practice and French Legal Theory.
The Bachelor of Civil Law/Maîtrise is more recent and the first cohort of students will
graduate in September 2009. It is also a four-year full-time degree, but is a dual degree in that it offers students the opportunity to obtain qualifying Law degrees in two jurisdictions, namely a Bachelor of Civil Law Degree from UCD and a primary French Law Degree, the Maîtrise, from the University of Panthéon-Assas (Paris II). Students spend the first two years at the UCD Law School studying for the BCL where they take the normal range of legal subjects offered in the BCL; in addition, they take both French Public Law and French Private Law as a preparation for their studies in France. The final two years of the Programme are 4spent in the Faculty of Law at Paris II studying for the Maîtrise.
Some aspects are common to both Programmes in terms of teaching. While students follow the Irish Law courses together with all the other students in the standard Bachelor of Civil Law – around one hundred and fifty students at each level in core subjects – they are taught
French Law subjects in smaller groups. These are indeed selective degrees and the maximum number of places is sixteen in the BCL Law with French Law and ten in the BCL/Maîtrise – the particularity being for the latter that five students are selected via the 56CAO process and the five others by the partner university, Paris II. Thus, there is a mix of
nationalities with a class constituted of half Irish and half French nationals – but there have
been applications and students from other countries in Europe. The other aspect worth of note is that the French Law topics are taught through French and by qualified French 7lawyers.
The aim of both Programmes is obviously to broaden the Law curriculum and to combine two dimensions – the need to acquire legal skills, as well as key competencies in another European language. It is important at this stage to make some observations about the context in which these bilingual discipline-specific programmes were set up in the UCD Law School.
Context: The European Dimension
Even though it did not influence directly the decision to set up the two degrees, a range of policy initiatives taken by the European Union institutions and other actors certainly created an encouraging, if not pressing, context. There are three key aspects which come out of the different commitments undertaken in this regard in which the strengthening of the European 8dimension in the sector of higher education is the pervasive objective: first, the imperative to
reach excellence in teaching and learning; secondly, the necessity, especially in terms of diversity of programmes offering, to learn languages; thirdly – and directly concerning my
discipline – the importance of learning about other legal systems.
First, targeting excellence is set out in general terms in the Lisbon Strategy (March 2000) which is Europe’s response to globalisation. The European Union has committed itself to
becoming by 2010 “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the
world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social 9cohesion”. Concerning education in particular, the ministers of Education agreed on shared objectives and, together with the European Commission, endorsed a ten-year work programme with the overall goal being that the European Union becomes a world leader in 10terms of quality of its education and training systems. In this framework, three major goals
are to be achieved for the benefit of the citizens and the European Union as a whole – to
improve the quality and effectiveness of European Union education and training systems, to ensure that they are accessible to all; and to open up education and training to the wider world. Concerning tertiary level institutions, the European Commission has also put the emphasis on the imperative of quality and excellence in higher education as an element of modernisation and attractiveness that would enable universities to make their full contribution 11to the Lisbon Strategy. More specifically, mobilising all Europe’s brain power and applying it
in the economy and society will require much more diversity than hitherto with respect to target groups, teaching modes, entry and exit points, the mix of disciplines and competencies 12in curricula, etc..
These developments are in line with earlier European initiatives aimed at promoting greater cooperation and harmonisation of programme frameworks in higher education. The 13Sorbonne Declaration (25 May 1998) first stressed the Universities’ central role in
developing European cultural dimensions. Emphasising the creation of a European Higher Education Area (EHEA) as a key way to improve external recognition of degrees and facilitate student mobility as well as employability, it encouraged the harmonisation of the architecture of the European education system. As the other, and most well-known, intergovernmental initiative in this area, the Bologna Declaration (19 June 1999) saw the 14ministers of Education of twenty-nine European countries commit themselves to more
specific objectives considered of primary relevance in order to establish the EHEA and promote the European system of higher education world-wide. The Declaration initiates the 15so-called Bologna process, which is designed to introduce a system of academic degrees that are easy to read and compare, to promote the mobility of students, teachers and researchers and to ensure quality in education; it is also designed to take into account the European dimension of higher education, particularly with regards to curricula developments, inter-institutional co-operation, mobility schemes and integrated programmes of study and training.
Developing the European dimension in education is also achieved through the learning and dissemination of the languages of the Member States, as well as the promotion of 16cooperation between educational establishments. The ministers of Education expressed a
specific commitment to that aim when they declared, also in the Sorbonne Declaration, that students should be encouraged to spend at least one semester in universities outside their own country and that they should have access to a diversity of programmes including, among others, development of a proficiency in languages. The commitment has been
reiterated on several occasions by the different institutions – in a Europe which will always be
multilingual, learning languages opens doors. For individuals, it can open the door to a better career, to the chance to live, study or work abroad, even to more enjoyable holidays! For 17companies, multilingual staff can open the door to European and global markets. For
example, in 2003, the European Commission declared that higher education institutions played a key role in promoting societal and individual multilingualism. All students should study abroad, preferably in a foreign language, for at least one term, and should gain an 18accepted language qualification as part of their degree course. The European dimension in
studies has become an increasingly attractive option and course pairings such as a European language combined with Business, Economics or Law have indeed become more popular.
Lastly, recent developments in the European Judicial Area with the introduction of the European arrest warrant, the development of Family Law and Civil Law in general at European level, as well as the principle of mutual recognition of judicial decisions, have made it necessary for legal practitioners (judges, prosecutors and lawyers) to develop mutual knowledge of the different judicial systems in order to establish genuine mutual trust. The European Union has thus been focussing on judicial training in specific areas, including the improvement of mutual knowledge of the judicial systems of the Member States and 19improvement of language training. It is in this context that the Bachelor of Civil Law with French Law and the Bachelor of Civil Law/Maîtrise degrees were set up and interesting
challenges have been faced since then.
Challenges in Designing the French Law Curriculum
Setting up and running the BCL Law with French Law and the BCL/Maîtrise have involved
different kinds of challenges. I will leave aside the difficult tasks of administrative and practical nature, such as recruiting staff (French qualified lawyers and tutors), signing cooperation agreements with French partner universities and dealing with accommodation matters for the BCL/Maîtrise students. Only the teaching and learning aspects will be
focussed on and in particular the issue of curriculum design.
In terms of curriculum design, it is first of all worth reminding the fact that universities enjoy academic freedom with regard to their course provision, course content and the design of their curricula. Even though quality control parameters seek to ensure the quality of what is being proposed, and whether there is a legitimate need for any proposed courses and 20. Yet, curricula, no guidelines exist regarding a minimum common curriculum for tertiary levela certain number of specific constraints are to be taken into account in the case of the French Law degrees. The French Law courses to teach are to be carefully selected so as to offer an adequate balance with the Irish Law subjects. This is not only important in terms of workload, but also in terms of academic consistency. Concerning the workload, French Law topics are taught in addition to Irish Law subjects – and many of these are in fact imposed in
the first stages of the study programme. Indeed, in the case of Law degrees, courses are 21subject to the approval of the two professional bodies: the Law Society and the King’s Inns.
Tertiary institutions need to abide by the requirements of such bodies if the courses are to be recognised for professional license purposes.
This has been most problematic in the case of the BCL/Maîtrise because students have to
study in two years (instead of three in the case of standard BCL students), not only the core 22subjects required by the professional legal bodies, but also the required subjects which will
give them their basic grounding in French Law to be able to catch up in year three in France. The danger in selecting courses is to cover too much as it is well acknowledged that “the 23greatest enemy of understanding is coverage”. The preferred option has been then to
select courses for which students are offered the equivalent in Irish Law like, for instance, Constitutional Law in year one, and Law of Tort and Law of Contract in year two. French Family Law is not offered for example, and the curriculum content instead insists on French Law of Tort and Law of Contract which will give the substantive and methodological background to understand other technical topics like Company Law, Business Law, and Banking Law etc. This is not only important as a preparation for studying in France, it also allows – and this is my second point about academic consistency – for correspondence with
Irish Law. The kind of parallelism created in the curriculum allows the comparative dimension between the Irish and French legal systems to emerge. As soon as year two in the case of the BCL/Maîtrise, and in year four in the case of the BCL Law with French Law, students should be able to compare and contrast Irish and French legal concepts, principles and rules 24hence reaching a rather high level of understanding in the topics taught. These constraints
can be regarded as limitations to the flexibility in course content, but I also regard them as useful elements to formulate and clarify curriculum objectives.
Another major constraint is obviously the language requirement. Students in both degrees have to attain a certain level of written and oral legal French to be able to follow increasingly complex and demanding French Law courses in UCD and in French universities. The study of Law is intrinsically linked to the language through which it is taught for it is true that learning about another legal system is a matter of becoming acquainted with the jargon that goes with it. This is quite different from other disciplines: a student will learn the same mathematics, medicine or even philosophy, whether studying in France or in Ireland, even though the approach and methods used can be slightly different: an equation has the same meaning everywhere. On the other hand, the concept of a contract can differ from one country to another, for example regarding the conditions for its validity. In other words,
teaching and learning French Law in the context of a Common Law degree requires the offering of a solid grounding in French legal terminology. It is not the object of the present paper to give a detailed account of this particular question, but several points of the author’s
experience are worth noting as they represent a good example of how curriculum design is an evolving matter and how in particular the teacher has to be able to corner down students’ profiles and needs. Informal French conversation classes were first put in place to supplement the learning process of French Law topics in the first running years of the BCL Law with French Law degree. As the curricula objectives in French Law subjects were made more specific, the pressure to excel in French – whether legal or “plain” French – increased
and, with the setting up of the BCL/Maîtrise, a fully-fledged module on French Legal
Terminology and Concepts was eventually set up with specific learning outcomes and separate assessment strategies. As part of an ongoing reflection on this issue of terminology, it is also intended to re-offer French conversation classes (optional this time and apart from the normal curriculum). Indeed, students have expressed a common request (in questionnaires and feedback) about the necessity to update their level of conversational French. Even though the other French Law topics help them to dramatically improve their written and oral expression, students have felt that they cannot rely on their Leaving Certificate level of French (grammar, syntaxes, vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, etc.) to study a technical topic with a bilingual dimension. On the positive side, it might be important to stress the fact that Irish students are somehow quite gifted for language learning – or at
least prepared for it; they indeed learn another language from a very young age and some of them are already totally bilingual in Irish-English when they get into the degree. This is an interesting fact to take into account when reflecting on students ability to think and conceptualize in a foreign language.
Apart from the selection of topics, including the language element, curriculum design also implies the issue of how to teach and learn the chosen topics. Limiting again the scope of the study in this area, attention will be drawn to some cultural aspects of teaching and learning in French Law. This does not concern strict cultural differences as the ones referred to by John 25Biggs between Western and Asian students, but rather legal cultural differences as
between common lawyers and civil lawyers. Indeed, the way to think about Law and develop 26legal rules is very different in each system. The best example is the method of analyzing a
case. This is a fundamental skill to acquire in a Common Law system based on judge-made law where decided cases are binding for the future according to the rule of precedents. In an Irish Law school, the teaching and learning method is a bottom up approach which consists in examining a certain amount of case law in order to determine how the rules and principles of law are applied to the facts of the case under scrutiny and see if these will give an acceptable solution in similar cases. On the contrary, the French legal system is characterized by a rigid, legalistic and rule-oriented approach to Law and legal sources. It is a top down approach to the study of Law which consists of learning about laws, rules and principles, in the first place, and apply them to the legal issue at hand, in the second place. In other words, the study of Irish Law begins with the study of case law from which to derive principles, whereas the study of French Law starts with the learning of principles that can be applied to concrete situations. The interesting finding coming out of the teaching experience in that matter is that students certainly benefit and appreciate being taught according to two different methods – either case-based or rule-based – as this might suit various learning
styles in legal studies. Looking at theoretical underpinnings of curriculum design, my experience has led me to reflect on different kinds of approaches in this regard – from a
discipline-based approach in core French Law subjects in the first years of study where the curriculum follows the structure of knowledge in the discipline, to what is referred to as a 27“socially critical approach”, in which the curriculum is designed to develop a critical
consciousness of society and its institutions – in my case, situating knowledge at the
crossroads of two different cultural legal systems.
Some Reflections on the Benefits of Teaching and Learning in French Law
The experience of teaching in the two Law with French Law degrees (I start my seventh year next term) and observation of the students learning about a different legal system and terminology have allowed me to reflect on the benefits of teaching and learning in French Law. The idea of the following developments is not to provide vain comments, but rather to end up on a positive reflective note. The positive aspects gained from the existence of such Programmes can be considered from a triple point of view: from the student’s point of view,
from the lecturer’s point of view and from the institution’s point of view.
First, from the student’s perspective, the main advantage lies in the teaching and learning
format. Students certainly benefit from small group teaching which allows all the support they need to learn in another language. Reflecting on this kind of teaching has led to a certain degree of innovation in teaching methods and more focus in learning. It has not always been easy. Due to programme constraints and French curricula demands (see above), as well as to my cultural background of learning, I feel it has been – and is still – difficult to depart from
a rather rigid format of teaching in certain courses. It is the case, for example, in French Constitutional Law (year one) and French Law of Tort and Law of Contract (year two) where I “lecture” and where student’s participation is less encouraged; coverage of topic appears to
be the main concern here.
On the other hand, the tutorials attached to these subjects can allow more discussion and student’s involvement. Also, the French Legal Terminology and Concepts course (year one) is taught by way of seminars which allows for more independent work. One example would be the type of work students are given in order to learn about the technique of case note, which is how to comment a French judicial decision. Students are asked to read several cases, to choose one and to present it orally to the class; they also have to hand a written paper with all the requirements for such an exercise, namely the relevant facts, the procedure, the arguments of the parties to the case and the ratio decidendi, or solution, given
by the court. Independent work is also emphasized in the final year of the BCL Law with French Law degree where students are asked to conduct the session in their French Law course. They have to do an oral presentation to the class on a date and topic they choose –
though the topic area is limited and must concern French current affairs, preferably including a comparative dimension with Ireland, as well as and legal aspects (i.e. the blood contamination scandal in France and in Ireland, or the legislation on abortion in France and in Ireland). While conducting the session, presenting students have to ensure that the exposé is followed by a discussion on their topic. This kind of exercise which force students to present publicly their ideas to an audience and defend them is a good preparation for future practice. The fact that it is through a foreign language requires more work and organization from students and gives them a sense of the difficulties involved in working in an international context.
Overall, the focus on learning is made more feasible in the French Law classes as lecturers –
and this has been the case for the French Law team – are more approachable and follow
students for a number of years; over a period of four years in the case of the BCL Law with French Law students, which is quite unusual at university level. There is undoubtedly a sense of belonging to a specific group which encourages team work and emulation. One last observation is that studying in another language diverts students from the other national-law based subjects, but in a positive way giving them a “change of scenery”. Academically
speaking, it also develops a sense of tolerance, getting them acquainted not only with different methods in teaching and learning, but also with different approaches about the content and development of their discipline. That is certainly an important aspect to take into consideration when talking about “preparing students for global citizenship” in the changing world of higher education.
Secondly, from the academic’s perspective, the existence of Law with Language degrees
has certainly encouraged my reflection as a teaching practitioner, but also as a lawyer as far as the substance of my discipline is concerned. In educational terms, connecting teaching, learning and research in the area of legal education, I have come across the “transsystemic
method” which is a creative and challenging new approach to legal education put in place by the McGill University Faculty of Law. The curriculum proposed in the law degree “prepares 28students for careers that increasingly require knowledge of more than one legal system”. In
this sense, it quite resembles what is offered in the BCL Law with French Law and in the BCL/Maîtrise. However, it is quite innovative in that it in fact explores the Common Law and Civil Law systems in an integrated fashion, encouraging students from the very first year to compare and critically evaluate the two traditions. This is an area which deserves further exploration – and will probably be the object of a more discipline-specific paper – but points
out the expanding possibilities in terms of teaching and learning strategy in Law with Language degrees – on a more global scale as it is not limited to the European context.
From a scientific point of view on the other hand, the experience of the two degrees has reinforced my conviction about the benefits of students’ circulation and exchanges
concerning the development of Law. Indeed, it has been acknowledged that the knowledge of other legal systems contributes to the coming closer of the different legal systems in Europe which, eventually, contributes itself to the renewal of a sort of European jus
commune. This European “common law” is based on common reasoning and interpretative
methods which will allow for innovative perspectives on common legal issues likely to arise in 29all the Member States of the European Union. Also, this is in line with a more general
evolution of the teaching and practice of Law which seeks to adopt a “global” approach. Due
to world-wide interactions between legal systems, the constitutive elements of domestic Law cannot be envisaged and understood without knowledge of other legal systems and 30transnational solutions. It is a scientific issue about the quality of knowledge in Law, but also an issue for the practice of Law. Future lawyers must be prepared to practice on a 31world-wide scale and adapt to different contexts.
Lastly, from the institutional point of view, there is undeniably a competitive advantage for UCD School of Law. Indeed, it is well acknowledged that the commitments and measures taken at EU level have led to some fierce competition between European universities as far 32as the training of future lawyers – and hence future judges and prosecutors – is concerned.
And when one observes that, in the United Kingdom which is the only other Common Law country in Europe, over half of Law faculties provide courses or programmes in French Law 33in some form, it is quite clear that the promotion of Civil Law degrees in Irish universities is 34an interesting opportunity. Yet, competition for competition’s sake is meaningless. The
positive side in the expansion of this kind of programmes is the fact that it can foster exchanges between students and lecturers of the different institutions involved in the different countries, hence reinforcing emulation. An informal meeting of those involved in Teaching French Law in Ireland and the United Kingdom held in July 2004 at the initiative of Professor John Bell of Cambridge University, and a symposium on Education, Teaching, Learning and Research in the Irish Legal Academia – including a discussion on
interdisciplinary and joint-degrees – held in September 2006 at Trinity College Dublin, are
good examples of fora necessary to share views and experiences on legal education and to reflect on this particular question of teaching and learning in Law with Language degrees.
35Today, “no European country can be isolated legally and judicially speaking”. In an
European Union aiming at fully taking up the challenges of globalisation, it is crucial to train a body of practitioners of which each member has at least a basic grounding in a legal system 36which is not his or hers. There is therefore a pedagogical responsibility to open the
teaching of Law to Europe and international perspectives, and not to concentrate on 37domestic Law.
Although involving different challenges, especially in terms of curriculum design, both French Law degrees appear to give this European dimension to legal studies. They seek to offer to students a unique training addressing the specific demand arising out of the creation of a European legal culture, but also giving them an opportunity for a more global career at international level with the knowledge of both Common Law and Civil Law systems. When one observes that the process of globalisation too frequently leads, or is susceptible to lead, to uniformity, the fact that both degrees operate in the European context is interesting as it is bound by this continuous tension between enhancement of mobility, on one hand, and respect for diversity, on the other hand.
1 The Education System in Ireland 2003/2004 at www.eurydice.org Eurybase, Information Database
on Education Systems in Europe (? 11. The European and International Dimension in Education –
European/International Dimension through the National Curriculum – Tertiary Education). 2 As a lawyer specialised in European Union Law, the author cannot refrain from making a comment on the notion of citizenship. While global citizenship does not exist as a legal concept, citizenship of the European Union forms Part Two (Articles 17 to 22) of the Treaty establishing the European Community. It entitles anyone who is a national of a Member State to the rights and duties laid down in the Treaty and also confers four special rights, namely the freedom to move and take up residence anywhere in the Union; the right to vote and stand in local government and European Parliament elections in the country of residence; diplomatic and consular protection from the authority of any Member State where the country of which a person is a national is not represented in a non-Union country; the right of petition and appeal to the European Ombudsman. 3 Information available at www.ucd.ie/law/undergrad_BCL_french.htm 4 Information available at www.ucd.ie/law/undergrad_BCL_maitrise.htm 5 The Central Applications Office centrally processes applications to first year undergraduate courses in higher education institutions in the Republic of Ireland. 6 There are other requirements for entry in both degrees. First, the number of points required in the Leaving Certificate is higher than for the standard BCL – for example, compare 495 points for the BCL
with 510 points for the BCL Law with French Law and 550 points for the BCL/Maîtrise (2006).
Secondly, substantive entry requirements include Irish, English, three other recognised subjects, as well as a minimum grade B3 in French at the higher LC level. 7 My colleague, Professor James Casey, author of Constitutional Law in Ireland (Round Hall Sweet &
Maxwell: Dublin, 2000, 733 p.) and francophile, is the only Irish academic involved in the degrees and lectures in French Constitutional Law. 8 Article 149 ? 2 of the Treaty establishing the European Community states that Community action shall be aimed inter alia at developing the European dimension in education. 9 EU Bulletin 3-2000, I.5.5. 10 Council 5980/01 EDUC 23, 14 February 2001, Report from the Education Council to the European
Council on the concrete future objectives of education and training systems, and Council 2002/C
142/01 Detailed work programme on the follow-up of the objectives of Education and training systems in Europe. 11 European Commission, Mobilising the brainpower of Europe: enabling universities to make their full contribution to the Lisbon Strategy, 20 April 2005, COM (2005) 152. 12 Idem. 13 Only the Education ministers of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom signed the Declaration on the occasion of the anniversary of the University of Paris in the Sorbonne. 14 Including Ireland, together with Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the